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DeKalb DA dismisses charges against wrongly accused man

5:53 AM, Sep 25, 2013   |    comments
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DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. -- Flanked by family member and community leaders, Nathan Dwight appeared on the steps of the DeKalb County courthouse to announce that the charges against him had been dropped -- his long and arduous journey through the criminal justice system at an end.

Even with a growing body of evidence pointing to this innocence, calls from civil rights leaders to dismiss the charges and an embarrassing videotape in which a DeKalb County detective was caught using a racial slur during his interrogation, it still took the 25 year old more than four years to clear his name.

"It's been said the wheels of justice move slowly," Dwight said. "But in my case, it seemed like they were turning backwards."

DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James recently notified Dwight that his office was dismissing all charges related to a 2009 carjacking -- a crime he insists he did not commit.

11Alive News was the first to report on the videotaped police interrogation in which Detective Michael Hellerman uses a racial slur as he tries to intimidate Dwight into confessing to a carjacking and armed robbery.

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The fallout from the videotape and our special report continues to widen. Two metro Atlanta law enforcement agencies -- the DeKalb County Police Department and the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office -- have launched internal investigations into the conduct of their officers and the use of the racial slur. 

The videotape shows DeKalb County Detective Michael Hellerman threatening an Nathan Dwight with the prospect of being convicted by a "jury full of white people," who will only see him as a "straight-up n*****."

An internal investigation found Det. Hellerman guilty of "conduct unbecoming" a police officer. Det. Hellerman tendered his resignation shortly after the scathing report was completed.

In 2009, Nathan Dwight was accused of carjacking a woman in DeKalb County and then using that stolen car in a violent armed robbery of a convenience store in Rockdale County.

He was tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the robbery in Rockdale.

Eyewitnesses identified him, even though the robber was wearing a disguise.

Nathan spent more than two years behind bars before DNA evidence found in the stolen car convinced a judge to overturn his conviction.

During a blistering police interrogation, the then-21 year old adamantly maintained his innocence.

The police, however, were convinced they had their man and turned up the heat in hopes of getting a confession.  In stark, unflattering terms, Detective Michael Hellerman paints a picture of Dwight's chances before a jury.

"We're going to get a whole jury -- a whole jury full of white people," Detective Hellerman told an visibly agitated Dwight.

"I'm not confessing to nothing I didn't do," Dwight interjected.

Dwight sat down with 11Alive's Devin Fehely, saying "Morally, in my eyes, that was wrong.  I mean he looked me dead in my face and called me, 'a n****.' It was just blatant."

11Alive News showed the interrogation video to DeKalb County Police Chief Cedric Alexander and his reaction was a mix of embarrassment and outrage.

"It sent a chill up my back that an investigator in this police department would use such language," Alexander said. "Quite frankly, I shouldn't be the only person upset with this. I think anybody in the judicial system should be absolutely outraged by this."

The jurors at Dwight's original trial saw parts of the videotaped interrogation, but neither the prosecution nor the defense played the segment where Detective Hellerman used the n-word.

Defense attorney Mawuli Davis said, "They needed to see how far this officer would go to get this young man to confess to something that he has always said he did not do."

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