Multiple sclerosis has Paul House in a wheelchair. A tenacious prosecutor has him on death row, deemed too dangerous to be released two years after the U.S. Supreme Court said he likely isn't guilty.
That closely watched ruling, which made it easier for inmates to get new hearings on DNA evidence that emerges after their trials, and the fallout from it have left House in limbo while a prosecutor methodically battles every effort from the courts to have him retried.
Federal judges have done as the high court ordered: They reviewed his murder case and concluded new evidence raises reasonable doubt about his guilt. Not allowed to overturn the conviction, they took the extraordinary step of giving Tennessee a six-month deadline to bring House to trial or release him.
And still House, 46, is locked up in a Nashville prison.
An appeals court ruled in his favor this month, but that ruling also reset the 180-day countdown at zero.
U.S. District Judge Harry S. Mattice Jr. has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday to consider terms and conditions of House's release, but prosecutors are taking their time in setting a date for a new trial.
"The Supreme Court has said, 'You just got the wrong person.' You would think ... that there would be some respect for that situation," said U.S. Circuit Judge Gilbert S. Merritt, who has heard portions of House's case and believes he isn't guilty of murder.
District Attorney Paul Phillips said he plans to retry House with old evidence from the first trial and some new evidence he wouldn't describe. He promises he has "proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. House is guilty or we would not be re-prosecuting him."
For House's mother, it's hard not to think the state is delaying on purpose.
"What I really think, and I'm not the only one, is they just want him to linger in there until he dies. Then it will all go away, they think," Joyce House said recently at her white ranch-style home in Crossville, a town of about 10,000 some 100 miles east of Nashville.
Phillips denied prosecutors are intentionally putting off the case and noted the inmate's doctor testified House could live for decades with his illness.
"They just don't want to admit they made a mistake," Joyce House said. "They're not the only state that's ever made a mistake."