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‘Bone Valley’ Podcast Subject Is Granted Parole 37 Years After Wife’s Murder

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For more than three decades, Leo Schofield Jr. maintained his innocence as he served 35 years of a life sentence in the murder of his wife, Michelle Schofield. He has been denied parole four times, even after another man confessed to the killing years ago.

Since he was put in prison, he has remarried, earned a theology degree and led Bible and guitar classes. He had grandchildren and became the subject of a podcast that tried to prove his innocence.

On April 30, Mr. Schofield, 58, will be a free man.

A parole board in Tallahassee, Fla., on Wednesday granted Mr. Schofield parole, nearly 35 years to the day since he was incarcerated. The same board extended his incarceration for a year last May and voted to transfer him to the Everglades Correctional Institution, west of Miami, where he has been in a transitional program for long-term inmates.

Mr. Schofield’s story has been documented in “Bone Valley,” a nine-part podcast hosted by Gilbert King, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and Kelsey Decker. The podcast was released in September 2022, and painted a picture of a prosecution and conviction so riddled with errors, including a lack of evidence connecting Mr. Schofield to the crime and an ineffective trial lawyer, that a Florida circuit judge, Scott Cupp, quit his job to try to help exonerate Mr. Schofield.

“While we are grateful for the commission’s action, Mr. Schofield is by no means free,” Mr. Cupp said in a statement. “We will continue to fight for his exoneration — the only way we can correct this grave injustice.”

On Feb. 27, 1987, the body of Michelle Schofield, who was 18, was discovered in Lakeland, Fla., with 26 stab wounds. Mr. Schofield, her husband of six months, was named a suspect soon after and charged with her murder. Prosecutors portrayed Mr. Schofield as hotheaded and abusive, and a neighbor said she had seen him on the night of the murder moving a large object that could have been a body from his home.

But there was never any physical evidence linking Mr. Schofield to the crime. A set of fingerprints that were found in Ms. Schofield’s car went unmatched until 2004, when law enforcement tied them to another man, Jeremy Scott, who was already serving a life sentence for robbing and beating a man to death.

Mr. Scott confessed to the murder of Ms. Schofield a number of times, including in a detailed interview for “Bone Valley.” Even after the fingerprint match, a circuit judge denied Mr. Schofield a new trial. A subsequent appeal was denied.

During the hearing on Wednesday, former inmates, corrections officers and family members spoke in support of Mr. Schofield’s release. Jacob Orr, an assistant state attorney, criticized the media attention around Mr. Schofield’s case, and took issue directly with the storytelling on “Bone Valley,” accusing the podcast of omitting key facts. No one from Ms. Schofield’s family spoke at the hearing.

Mr. Schofield will move to a halfway house once he is released. His parole conditions include entering a community outreach program, mandatory mental health and substance abuse evaluation, anger and stress management evaluation, curfew restrictions, no contact with the victim’s family and restitution that is still to be determined.

“Bone Valley” has added bonus episodes that chart the latest developments in Mr. Schofield’s uncertain road to freedom. In December, Mr. Schofield spoke about how he took “a strong moral inventory” of his life over the past year in reckoning with who he was in the years before Ms. Schofield was murdered, and recounted his transfer from Hardee Correctional Institution in Bowling Green, Fla., to the corrections transfer program, the first time he had left the prison complex in 16 years.

“It looks so different out there, even the names of stores,” he said, describing being out of prison.

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