MOUNDSVILLE - West Liberty University student-athlete Vernon Dunnom was exonerated and released Monday evening after spending days in jail for being incorrectly identified as the gunman during an attempted robbery in Florida on Nov. 16.
Dunnom, 24, of Florida had been in the Northern Regional Jail in Moundsville since Friday, when Mountain State Fugitive Task Force officers arrested him on West Liberty's campus. Law enforcement in Dade County, Fla., wanted Dunnom on charges of murder, attempted murder and attempted robbery.
Ohio County Circuit Judge David Sims authorized a jail release order late Monday. The Miami-Dade Office of the State Attorney dismissed the charges against Dunnom earlier in the day, partly because of evidence produced that showed Dunnom on or near the local campus minutes before the crime occurred.
Dunnom maintained his innocence when arrested, and said late Monday following his release that he is ready to hit the books for final exams this week at West Liberty.
"I was just happy, just thanking God that they found out I was innocent ..." Dunnom said in a published report. "I'm just going to keep doing what I've always been doing, just being a student athlete."
According to WLU President Robin Capehart, two fellow students ate dinner with Dunnom at the Liberty Tavern the evening of Nov. 16. University officials obtained Dunnom's debit card receipt from that meal, which he signed at 7:53 p.m., Capehart said.
Dunnom used his personal, university-issued identification card to enter Beta Hall an hour later at 8:53 p.m., school documents show.
Miami Gardens, Fla., detectives alleged Dunnom fatally shot a man during a robbery attempt there at 9:43 p.m. Nov. 16, less than one hour after he entered his dormitory at West Liberty.
Dunnom used his university ID again at 11:11 a.m. Nov. 17 for lunch at Rogers Hall, according to Capehart. A time-stamped photo of video footage shows an individual Capehart says matches Dunnom's description entering the building around the same time.
Investigators in Florida conducted subsequent interviews with witnesses to the crime after the university presented the evidence to the State Attorney's Office, which ultimately determined Dunnom was incorrectly charged.
"I'm sure he'll be happy considering he's been in jail since Friday, and the whole time he's been declaring he's innocent, said Dunnom's attorney, David Jividen.
Jividen described Dunnom as a soft-spoken, mild-mannered person with no criminal record. He said his client was confident the case of mistaken identity would promptly conclude with his release, but that "horror stories" lingered in his mind.
"He just couldn't understand how someone in this country could get charged for something they didn't do," Jividen said.
Capehart said university officials worked exhaustively to corroborate Dunnom's account of the days surrounding the crime in Florida. "We're glad this is behind us and we look forward to getting things back to normal," he said.
Jividen also noted that his client had not been in Florida in almost a year, which Dunnom told officers following his arrest.
A junior majoring in exercise physiology and a member of the Hilltoppers football team, Dunnom was back in his dorm room Monday night preparing to take final exams this week.
Miami Gardens Detective Joseph Zellner, in charge of the murder investigation there, could not be reached for comment Monday.
According to court documents, two suspects attempted to rob two men on Nov. 16 in Miami Gardens. During the robbery, the suspects shot the victims multiple times, killing one of them.
The surviving victim identified Dunnom as the man who shot him by looking at a picture of a 16-year-old Dunnom, which investigators obtained from the Department of Motor Vehicles. A Florida judge subsequently issued warrants for Dunnom's arrest.