Homicide

Murder conviction at 15: 'I swear on my life I didn't do it'

  • Johnny Small sits for an interview at New Hanover Correctional Center in Wilmington, N.C., on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016. Small has been in prison since he was 16 for a murder he insists he didn't commit. A hearing is scheduled to begin Monday, Aug. 8 for Small, who has always maintained his innocence. The judge could vacate the conviction, order a new trial or uphold the conviction.
(AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)

    Johnny Small sits for an interview at New Hanover Correctional Center in Wilmington, N.C., on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016. Small has been in prison since he was 16 for a murder he insists he didn't commit. A hearing is scheduled to begin Monday, Aug. 8 for Small, who has always maintained his innocence. The judge could vacate the conviction, order a new trial or uphold the conviction. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)  (The Associated Press)

  • Johnny Small is escorted back to the yard at New Hanover Correctional Center in Wilmington, N.C., on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016. Small has been in prison since he was 16 for the murder of fish store owner Pam Dreher, but his attorney hopes recanted testimony will help free him. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)

    Johnny Small is escorted back to the yard at New Hanover Correctional Center in Wilmington, N.C., on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016. Small has been in prison since he was 16 for the murder of fish store owner Pam Dreher, but his attorney hopes recanted testimony will help free him. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)  (The Associated Press)

  • Johnny Small massages his forehead in frustration following an interview at New Hanover Correctional Center in Wilmington, N.C., on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016. Small has been in prison since he was 16 for a murder he insists he did not commit. A hearing is scheduled to begin Monday, Aug. 8 for Small, who has always maintained his innocence. The judge could vacate the conviction, order a new trial or uphold the conviction. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)

    Johnny Small massages his forehead in frustration following an interview at New Hanover Correctional Center in Wilmington, N.C., on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016. Small has been in prison since he was 16 for a murder he insists he did not commit. A hearing is scheduled to begin Monday, Aug. 8 for Small, who has always maintained his innocence. The judge could vacate the conviction, order a new trial or uphold the conviction. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)  (The Associated Press)

A man convicted of committing murder at age 15 is telling the victim's family he can only imagine their pain, but he says he didn't kill the pet shop owner 28 years ago.

Johnny Small testified Monday at a hearing that could lead to his release. A Superior Court judge will consider whether Small should have been convicted now that a childhood buddy recanted testimony accusing Small of shooting Pam Dreher execution-style in 1988. Judge W. Douglas Parsons is hearing the matter without a jury.

Small told Dreher's family from the witness stand he can only imagine what they've been through, but "I swear on my life I didn't do it."

State lawyer Sandra Wallace-Smith noted Small never claimed innocence in several written statements trying to get courts to re-examine his case.