A North Carolina man says authorities ruined his life when they mistakenly arrested him on child sex charges, which cost him his reputation, his home and his job of 23 years.
"I served my church, was working a career and overnight it was all gone," Tommy Keith Wall told The Huffington Post.
Wall, 50, of Willow Spring, was freed from the Harnett County jail on Oct. 30, after more than three months behind bars on charges of first-degree rape of a child, first-degree sex offense against a child and felony conspiracy. His release, according to the dismissal statement, was prompted by further investigation of the case, which revealed the "wrong person" was charged.
"It was horrible," Wall's attorney, Fred Webb, told HuffPost. "He was charged with one of the most horrible crimes and that can never be recovered from. Not only was he charged, but it was plastered all over the Internet."
The events that led to Wall’s arrest were set in motion in early January, when detectives began investigating Bailey Joe Mills, 33, after an exchange of inappropriate Facebook messages with a 12-year-old girl.
Police said they located videos taken by Mills of himself sexually molesting several children between the ages of 1 and 14. Authorities said they found approximately 10,000 images of child pornography on Mills' computers, as well as 100,000 images of child erotica and adult pornography, WNCT.com reported.
Mills, a convicted sex offender, was arrested on charges of first-degree rape of a child, first-degree sexual exploitation of a child, statutory rape of a child, first-degree statutory sex offense and indecent liberties with a child. In August, Mills pleaded guilty to one count of manufacturing child pornography, for which he is awaiting sentencing.
Authorities also arrested five other people in the case, including Wall, a Fort Bragg soldier and Mills' wife, Elizabeth Mills.
According to Wall's attorney, authorities claimed to have two videos linking Wall to the case. One was surveillance video of Wall visiting Elizabeth Mills in 2011. Wall's attorney acknowledges his client is the man pictured in that video and said he had visited with Elizabeth Mills after he dropped off a load of lumber for his company.
Authorities told Wall's lawyer that another video showed Wall sexually assaulting a child. Wall denied any involvement, but was arrested based on the supposed child sex video, his attorney said.
Wall sat behind bars for 105 days -- fearing he'd be stabbed or worse the whole time -- before the prosecution played the supposed evidence in court. That was the moment, Wall said, that the sheriff's office and prosecutors realized they had made a big mistake.
"When they did show it, they noticed I was not the man in the video," Wall said. "I have tattoos on my back, the guy in the video did not. The voice was different, the hair was different, the glasses were different, the man had a big mole on his head -- everything was different."
Webb said the first time he was permitted to view the video was in court. He said he was shocked that authorities had not bothered to closely examine it prior to Wall's arrest.
"It was crazy," Webb said. "The detective finally admitted that he was absolutely sure it was not Mr. Wall. Well why didn't he watch it to begin with? You'd think that would be first thing they would do when arresting someone on a charge like that."
Unfortunately for Wall, the damage was already done. At the time of his release from jail, he was homeless, out of work and in debt to creditors he was unable to pay while incarcerated.
"It's a very bad ordeal," said Wall, now living with his mother. "I was involved in the church and youth ministry and all that came to a stop when they arrested me."
Wall said his employer of 23 years has declined to rehire him.
"When I got papers showing I was cleared of everything I sent it to the people in management," he said. "I didn't get a reply from any of them, but I did get a call from human resources saying they didn't have any position for me and good luck with my career."
Despite all he has been through, Wall said he is working hard to put his life back together and hopes to have a new job soon. He said he's considering a lawsuit against the agency that put him behind bars.
Harnett County District Attorney Vernon Stewart, Sheriff Larry Rollins and lead investigator B.M. Byrd all declined to comment about the case to The News Observer, and a request for comment from HuffPost was not replied to Thursday.
Webb said that no matter what happens with a potential lawsuit, money is not the motivating factor.
"It's not about that," said Webb. "The money will not recover his reputation. His reputation is ruined and that's what he's trying to get back."