Update: Thriving at home after 13 years on death row with multiple sclerosis
Paul House lived with multiple sclerosis for 13 of 22 years on Tennessee's death row before DNA evidence freed him.
August 16th, 2011
03:52 PM ET

Update: Thriving at home after 13 years on death row with multiple sclerosis

Paul House left Tennessee's death row nearly four years ago a crippled man. Sure, he was free, but after 13 years of living with multiple sclerosis in prison, he was a gaunt shell of a man, unable to walk or barely talk, scared to go out in public for fear of being harassed.

Now, he’s a different person, says his mother, Joyce House. He has new teeth, and an affinity for Arby’s beef-and-cheddar sandwiches has helped him gain weight. Thanks to treatment and medication, he can communicate with others and play online poker. When it’s not too hot outside, he exercises on parallel bars in his mother's backyard so that one day, he can hopefully transition from a wheelchair to a walker.

Most importantly, he has overcome a fear of public scrutiny that had haunted him since his release in 2008, after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that new DNA evidence could have led a jury to acquit him in the 1985 murder of Carolyn Muncey. House spent 22 years on death row before his release.

"When he first came home, he didn't want to go anywhere. He was so afraid people were going to come up to him and say, 'oh you're a murderer,' " his mother said. "I told him people know you're innocent, I know you're innocent, you know you're innocent. He’d say, 'yeah, but does everyone else know?' "

House was placed under house arrest in 2008 while he awaited retrial. In 2009, a month before his trial, Union County District Attorney Paul Phillips filed a petition to drop all charges, saying DNA evidence presented significant reasonable doubt.

"Took 'em long enough," House said at the time.

His lawyer said he has filed a petition for executive clemency, which would provide for financial compensation. "He’ll never be able to walk, but he still strives to one day reach the walker,” Joyce House said.

"He says, 'whenever I get to where I can walk with the walker, we're going to see Mr. Kissinger,' the lawyer who set him free," she said.

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Filed under: Crime • Death Penalty • Health • Tennessee
soundoff (246 Responses)
  1. f

    Are they saying the Tennessee prison system did not give thisman medicine for his MS? I have MS and I have ZERO affects from it because I ahve been taking the same medicine for the past 5 years. I work, run/race, have kids, do everything. MS is NOT a death sentence with medicine. He should sue the pants off the prison.

    August 16, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • JRLawyer

      He probably received medicine, but the real issue is that he couldn't lead a normal, active life. You mentioned in your comment that you run races and play with your kids... all normal and healthy activities of daily life. He was likelky in a cell for at least 23 hours a day with nothing to do but sit around and read or write. This type of lifestyle is not conducive to holding off the effects of a degenerative disease.

      August 16, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kristen

      You make an extremely good point!

      August 16, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • f

      Ok, so in that case he should sue the pants off the prison for poor treatment and he should be taken care of financially by the state for the next 22+ years.

      August 16, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • JRLawyer

      What you describe as "poor treatment" is relatively standard treatment for convicted murderers in most states. I agree it is inappropriate and inhumane, but try convincing state legislators of that fact.

      August 16, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse |
  2. tim

    BTW if I were wrongly convicted and sent to life in prison I'd much rather have the death penalty and be done with it. Prison is a horrible place to live out your life, I'd say it's even more inhumane than the death penalty.

    August 16, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      yeah, you would rather be innocent and dead than innocent and free. What about trying to make the justice system a decent one, rather than a joke, like it is now. How many more innocent people will die on the electric chair before finally organizing a justice system that does not convict people on flimsy evidence and fabricated allegations? Put a value to the life this guy has lost ... the justice department should pay him several millions dollars, even if he might have never earned that kind of money, prosecutors should be responsible for their "mistakes" ...

      August 16, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • dk

      im curious as to why u think like that
      no matter what one is going through, he/she should appreciate life so much more than taking it away
      i hav no experience of being in a prison, so i many can say that i hav no standing...
      but as long as one is alive they can keep on moving forward and even start over if he/she wanted to
      living is a gift of chances...
      so i would like to know wut standing ur thoughts come from

      August 16, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nah22

      paul: "yeah, you would rather be innocent and dead than innocent and free. What about trying to make the justice system a decent one, rather than a joke, like it is now. How many more innocent people will die on the electric chair before finally organizing a justice system that does not convict people on flimsy evidence and fabricated allegations?"

      You cannot be convicted on "flimsy evidence" in the U.S.'s justice system. You can, however, be convicted because of the negligence and stupidity of judges, jurors and lawyers.

      Don't use a human failing to indict the system itself.

      'prosecutors should be liable for their "mistakes"'

      Sure, but immunity exists on the grounds of public policy.

      If prosecutors were liable to be sued for negligence, every person convicted of a crime would sue every prosecutor that exists. Prosecutors would then end up in court more than the defendants themselves. Immunity exists to stave off grudge suits and to let prosecutors do their job without fear of vindictive retribution.

      Naturally that means bad prosecutors will get away with doing bad things. But even then the question is how many cases are prosecuted fairly versus those that are prosecuted wrongly? 100 to 1? 1,000 to 1?

      August 16, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Seamus McDermott

      How many cases? Well, they had 55 people on death row in Illinois who were cleared because of DNA evidence by the Innocence Project. 55 in one state. Is that enough for you? The governor, not lacking courage, shut down the death machine. Would there be any other choice when you realize you were about to kill 55 innocent people?
      And that's just one state.
      And the prosecutors, faced with the DNA evidence, STILL wanted these people executed.
      So basically, you have a brutal system in which prosecutors would use the innocent dead they have knowingly killed to bolster their political fortunes.

      August 17, 2011 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
  3. Eli

    enjoy your freedom

    August 16, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
  4. DJCowboy

    I bet had the guy just been convicted of this crime he didn't commit, a majority of you would be screaming for his head without any chance for him to appeal

    August 16, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheMovieFan

      Unfortunately, that is so true.

      August 16, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
  5. raven

    @rearingeddie: I agree. I watched a 20/20 once in which a man had been (wrongfully )imprisoned for 17years. The prosecutors first fought even having crime scene dna tested,then refused to release him when said dna implicated another man . I think pride gets in the way sometimes. DAs and prosecutors would rather keep an innocent man in prison than admit a wrongful conviction. Pride goeth before a fall .

    August 16, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • rearingeddie

      In today's soceity norm, you are guilty before proven guilty, if proven. Yes, I said guilty twice.

      August 16, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      I try to see both sides. It must be a hell of a burden to select the best candidate for having committed a crime knowing they may be put to death over it. To have that burden and then find out you are about to have a man wrongly put to death must be tough.

      August 16, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Thaddeus Kerrin

    Damn talk about a living nightmare he was in hell

    August 16, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jeff Hanson

    How could someone stay sane for that amount of time knowing they did not kill the person especially having MS? I hope the DA that convicted him feels some major remorse.

    August 16, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
  8. LouieD

    After a couple weeks reconnecting with his old next-door neighbor, Homer Simpsons, Flanders here will be begging to go back to prison!

    August 16, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Cultural

    He's just the top of the iceberg.
    No one knows how many innocent people are sitting on death row as we speak, although we do know that we've executed numerous innocent people in the past.
    I guess this guy got lucky. Good for him.

    August 16, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • LOL

      22 years wrongfully spend on deathrow. What a 'lucky' guy!

      August 17, 2011 at 8:37 am | Report abuse |
  10. theDude

    You know who else was convicted of a crime they didn't commit? The A-Team.

    August 16, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • f

      Good One ! And O.J. Simpson ! If the glove don't fit, you must acquit !

      August 16, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
  11. bruce Heinemann

    just wonder how many innocent prisoners both Bush and Perry murdered in Texas?.. We already know Perry killed at least one innocent man.. Good god-fearing christians both...

    August 16, 2011 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • bluey

      Here we go with the Christian knocking. Got nothing to do with anything, but a crutch for weak people like you. How can you blame Bush or Perry? Were they in court at the trials? Were they on the jury? You're a bad as the DA. Speaking garbage and not interested in reality.

      August 17, 2011 at 9:25 am | Report abuse |
  12. banasy©

    I hope this gentleman can rebuild his life.
    Much luck to him.

    August 16, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  13. banasy©

    @theDude:
    Thanks for the laugh.
    I needed it.

    August 16, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
  14. WillH85

    This goes to show just what a great idea the death penalty is and how great our justice system is. Its frightening to think how many innocent people we've executed over the years.

    August 16, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheMovieFan

      Unfortunately, too many stupid people would justify such an execution because the executed might have committed other crimes or that he must be guilty of something...why would he have been arrested?

      August 16, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
  15. freek5

    GODS SPEED... GODS BLESSINGS!

    August 16, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
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