He was sentenced to life for murder. On Wednesday, after nearly 15 years, he regained his freedom - Mountain State Spotlight

Jason Lively was convicted of killing a prominent McDowell County resident in a fire, but powerful new evidence called that conviction into question.

Charles Jason Lively entered the Mercer County Courthouse Wednesday morning wearing shackles and a prison uniform. He walked out a free man.

Family and friends greeted him with cheers, tears and embraces. Many wore “Justice for Jason” shirts.

Lively said his release was hard to comprehend, that he was on “sensory overload.” Hugging Billie Blankenship, his fiancee, Lively said his next step was to get married.

Lively spent more than 14 years of his life behind bars, many of them in solitary confinement.  

At age 29, Lively was convicted of first-degree murder and first-degree arson following the March 2005 house fire death of Ebb K. “Doc” Whitley Jr.  A second man, Tommy Owens, was also charged, but was acquitted in a separate trial.

The case was a high-profile one across southern West Virginia, because Whitley was a well-known local politician and doctor.

An Air Force veteran, Whitley had served on the McDowell County Board of Education, the McDowell County Commission, the McDowell County Democratic Executive Committee and as a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, according to his obituary

Lively was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole after 15 years. He has been held at Mount Olive Correctional Complex. Two recent deaths at the facility have been linked to COVID-19 after it saw a surge of cases.

During a hearing Wednesday, Mercer County Circuit Judge William J. Sadler vacated all of Lively’s previous convictions. In addition to Whitley’s murder, Lively had previously been convicted of petit larceny for the alleged theft of a laptop from Whitley’s second house. 

Lively then entered into a Kennedy plea deal in front of the judge for the misdemeanor offenses of alteration or destruction of computer equipment and trespass in structure or conveyance, in regards to the laptop. In West Virginia law, that means Lively accepted punishment, but did not admit guilt. 

The judge allowed the time Lively had already served to be applied to those charges.

Read the full article by Mountain State Spotlight here