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Falsely accused man gets freed after 30 years in prison — then dies just months later

By Olivia Land

A Tennessee man was freed after serving 30 years in prison for a crime he did not commit –then died just a few months after his exoneration and release.

Claude Francis Garrett, 66, passed away in his sleep on Oct. 30, less than six months after he walked out of Riverbend Maximum Security Institution for the last time, his friend revealed Wednesday.

He had been convicted of the arson murder of his girlfriend, Lorie Lee Lance, in 1993, but was let out in May when the evidence that led to his conviction was debunked.

“Over the past 5 months, Claude relished his freedom,” friend Liliana Segura wrote after his passing. “He enjoyed every moment with his daughter, Deana, and especially his grandson, who he absolutely adored.”

Garrett was 35 years old when he watched Lance, whom he planned to marry, perish in a fire at their Old Hickory home on Feb. 24, 1992. Investigators later alleged that scorch patterns at the scene suggested the fire was set deliberately. A jury sentenced him to life in prison after less than 3 days of deliberation.

After years of appeals, Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins ruled on May 6 that there was “clear and convincing” proof that the so-called evidence of arson had since been debunked as junk science.

Speaking to the Tennessean in May, Garrett’s daughter Deana Watson said she was elated but nervous about his homecoming.

“The plan is that he hangs out with me for a while and then we figure it out,” she told the outlet. “We had a whole conversation about cell phones and how they work. We will help him reintegrate into society.”

In the letter published by the Daily Star, Segura said that Garrett was hoping to hold the state accountable for his ordeal.

“Claude had plans. He wanted the state to be held accountable for his wrongful conviction,” she wrote. “He wanted compensation. It is unfathomable to me that the people most responsible for stealing so much of his life will never have to confront what they did, that they will outlive him.”

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