Ates walks free from county jail
1998 murder conviction overturned; new trial scheduled
December 18, 2008 - 2:12 PM
Jimmy Ates was released from custody today following a judge's overturning of his 1998 first-degree murder conviction.
Ates was released from the Okaloosa County Jail in Crestview at 10:54 a.m.
Circuit Court Judge William Stone wasted little time in granting a request that Ates' life sentence be vacated during a hearing Wednesday. The same State Attorney's Office that prosecuted him a decade ago had recommended he be granted a new trial.
The new trial was scheduled for Jan. 26 and Spencer Mann, a spokesman for the Eight Judicial Circuit State Attorney's Office, said the plan at this juncture is to attempt to prosecute Ates again.
"We're not saying the defendant is innocent," Mann said. "We're back in the homework phase after 10 years and are going to do everything in our power to put the case back together."
Ates, a teacher at Baker School, was convicted in 1998 of fatally shooting his wife Norma Jean Ates on June 2, 1991. He was sentenced to life in prison.
The Eighth District Judicial Circuit prosecuted the case after two other State Attorney Offices, including this region's first circuit office, declined to do so, citing insufficient evidence.
Eighth District Assistant State Attorney Geoff Fleck reviewed the conviction this year and called for a new trial for Ates. Fleck said ballistics evidence used against Ates had been discredited by the FBI.
Attorneys for the Innocence Project of Florida defended Ates. They said in a news release Ates "is the first person in the nation to have a conviction overturned based on the FBI's disavowal" of what is known as comparative bullet lead analysis (CBLA).
"Jimmy Ates is one of just 1,500 individuals nationwide whose cases were tainted by CBLA," the release said.