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US man acquitted after 15 years on death row

A jury in the southern US state of Tennessee Wednesday acquitted a man who spent more than 15 years on death row for a murder he did not commit, court sources said.

Michael McCormick, 55, was sentenced to death in 1987 for the murder of Donna Jean Nichols, 23. Nichols was killed at dawn on February 14, 1985 as she left a nightclub, and her body was found in a shopping mall parking lot.

After a long legal battle the case was overturned in a retrial on the grounds that McCormick was given an inadequate defense. In 2001 DNA tests of hair that had been a key element linking McCormick to the murder showed it was not his.

Following a retrial in the town of Chattanooga, which opened one week ago, prosecutors had only McCormick's alleged confession — which police secretly recorded — as evidence.

Prosecutors said that McCormick killed Nichols to prevent her from reporting to police a theft carried out by McCormick and the victim's brother.

But after nearly seven hours of deliberations the jury concluded that McCormick's reputation as a liar destroyed any credibility of his alleged confession.

Local television images showed McCormick breaking down in tears after hearing the verdict.