KILLEEN, Texas — George Powell has spent more than a decade behind bars for a crime he says he didn't commit. A judge is finally saying the case deserves another look.
Powell has served 10 years of a 28-year sentence after he was accused of robbing a 7-11 in Killeen.
"I have to laugh to keep from crying, trying to find the strength to turn this pain into a smile," Powell said.
Powell was arrested after video from June 9, 2008, showed a man armed with a gun demand money and cigarettes from a Killeen 7-11, before running away. At the time, police believed this suspect was connected to four other robberies around Central Texas.
In early February, after several hearings last year, Bell County Judge John Gauntt found that Powell should be granted a new trial, saying Powell's due process rights were violated. The case will go to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for review.
"This is really happening," Powell said. "I'm really in prison for something I had nothing to do with."
Powell's attorneys showed a false testimony from a jailhouse informant and major height discrepancies between Powell and the suspect captured in the crime video.
"They're right in front of each other," Powell said. "Does he look 6 foot three? Does he look like he's towering over her? Do you see any resemblance?"
Powell spoke with KCEN Channel 6 News reporter Emani Payne from behind bars once again to share his thoughts on the latest developments.
Powell said being incarcerated for so long while trying to prove his innocence is challenging.
"How do you stay sane in here? You don't,” Powell said. You don't start living until you've lost your life, I understand now what it means. You don't realize how precious and priceless life is until you've lost everything."
Powell just turned 46 in January, and it was his 10th birthday behind bars.
Powell said Gauntt made the right decision recommending a new trial, and the best birthday gift he could receive would be the ability to clear his name for good.
"Judge John Gauntt did the right thing. I'm innocent. Now we have to see what the Court of Criminal Appeals will do,” Powell said. “If I get out of here, I will spend my life helping wrongfully convicted people."
George Powell got the news of judge Gaunt's recommendation first from his fiancé, Tamara Powell, and then his attorneys at the Innocence Project. Both said it's been a long time coming.
"It's definitely been a tough journey," Tamara Powell said. "I've been in it for six years now, and we're gonna do everything we can to still prove that innocence."
Attorney Mike Ware said things are finally starting to look up for George Powell.
"This is good news, it's certainly very encouraging," Ware said. "A lot of this is what we've been saying all along about the prosecutorial misconduct."
George Powell said he's positive he'll win his appeal.
"Once they look at the case detail for detail, I am confident they will grant me my actual innocence," he said.
He also said he wants to see District Attorney Henry Garza held accountable.
"I've written him 50 letters from the time this happened, to me begging him 'please don't make this mistake you've got the wrong guy please undo this,' and not once did he apparently even consider it," he said.
Finally, he said if he does finally get out, his new life mission would focus on advocating for people who were wrongfully convicted.
"You don't realize how precious and priceless life is, until you've lost everything," he said. "And if I get out I promise you: I will dedicate my whole life to this."
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has not said when it will make its ruling.
District Attorney Henry Garza sent the following statement to KCEN Channel 6:
We are in the process of reviewing Judge Gauntt's findings and recommendations. We intend to file objections to the Court findings, as we are of the belief that they are not supported by the evidence at the hearing. We will await for a final determination from the Court of Appeals and proceed accordingly.