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Murder Case Against Alabama Man Dropped After 15 Years In Prison

December 27, 1986

BOSTON (AP) _ Charges against an Alabama man imprisoned 15 years for the slaying of a shopkeeper were dismissed Friday following the discovery that the murder weapon was used in a robbery two weeks after his arrest.

″This makes it a very, very merry Christmas,″ said Bobby Joe Leaster. ″My future looks bright. It’s time to get on with my life.″

Leaster, 36, was serving a life sentence on a murder charge filed in the 1970 slaying of Levi Whiteside during a holdup at Whiteside’s variety store.

Leaster was granted a new trial and freed from prison last month after a Boston constable who read about the case said that he saw two men he knew fleeing from the store and that neither was Leaster.

Assistant District Attorney Francis O’Meara on Friday discounted the testimony of constable Mark Johnson, saying he ″may be lying, probably not, more likely (he was) mistaken.″

Leaster, who maintained that he was with his girlfriend at the time of the shooting, was arrested 90 minutes after the shooting in clothes that fit a description of what the killer was wearing.

But O’Meara told Superior Court Judge Paul Chernoff that the key piece of evidence was the gun, a .22-caliber revolver thrown from a car during a police chase 16 days after the killing.

The gun was recovered immediately, but it was not linked to Whiteside’s killing until the case was reopened as a result of Johnson’s testimony. O’Meara said ballistics tests showed a bullet taken from Whiteside’s chest had been fired from the gun.

″We can’t say that Bobby Joe Leaster did it and we can’t say that he didn’t,″ O’Meara told the court. ″He served 15 years and it’s time to let it go.″

He said there were no plans to seek an indictment against the man who police say threw the gun after a robbery.

″We certainly don’t have anywhere near the amount of evidence to proceed,″ O’Meara said.

O’Meara and District Attorney Newman Flanagan said the decision to dismiss the case was made more difficult because Kathleen Whiteside, the victim’s widow and a witness to the shooting, remained positive that Leaster was the killer. Another woman in the store at the time also stuck by her identification of Leaster.

Attempts to reach Mrs. Whiteside on Friday were unsuccessful. Her telephone number is unlisted.

Leaster came to court Friday with his fiancee, June Wallace. The two met four years ago while Leaster was on one of nearly 100 furloughs from prison.

He said he planned to continue working at a construction job and start a family. ″That’s what I came to Boston to do,″ said the Reform, Ala., native. ″My life’s just beginning at 36 years old.″

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