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Innocent Man to be Released After 24 Years

by TChris

With the exception of executing the innocent, it doesn't get any worse than this.

Arrested, tried and convicted in just three months, [Michael] Williams was sentenced to hard labor for life with no possibility for parole and dispatched to the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, one of the nation's most notorious and deadly prisons. At times the institution lived up to its reputation. In one incident, Williams said, he was stabbed 16 times.

It took Williams' jury only an hour to decide that he beat and sexually assaulted his math tutor. That was in 1981, and Williams was just 16. Williams was the victim of his tutor's mistaken identification.

Now, nearly 24 years after his arrest, independent DNA tests by three laboratories, including the Louisiana state crime lab, show what Williams has long contended: He is not the man who committed the crime.

Williams becomes the 159th convicted defendant whose innocence has been established by DNA. Williams' lawyers and the district attorney in Jonesboro are (in the DA's words) "in the process of reaching a mutually agreeable method for securing his release from incarceration . . . on March 11."

The math tutor, like other crime victims who can't conceive of their own fallability, insists that she couldn't have been mistaken, but the DNA proves that she was. Williams was lucky that the tutor's clothing hadn't been discarded from the court files, making it unavailable for testing. Williams was also fortunate that the Innocence Project exists, and that it did its usual outstanding work. And Williams got one more break: his trial lawyer, who always believed in his innocence, is now a prosecutor in the district attorney's office, making it difficult for the DA to pretend that no mistake was made.

Williams' good luck, of course, is balanced against the bad luck that has deprived him of freedom for his entire adult life. And the bad luck continues, in this respect:

Louisiana has no law allowing for compensation of wrongly convicted defendants. When Williams is released, prison officials will give him a check for $10.

It will take more than luck to for Williams to make it in the outside world at this point. But at least he has his liberty.

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  • Re: Innocent Man to be Released After 24 Years (none / 0) (#1)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Mon Mar 07, 2005 at 05:57:43 PM EST
    I'd be happy to contribute a little start-up cash for Mr. Williams. Perhaps you can get the lawyer to handle the funds. What do you say, gang?

    Re: Innocent Man to be Released After 24 Years (none / 0) (#2)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Mon Mar 07, 2005 at 06:07:48 PM EST
    Count me in. Post the details if it can be arranged. How horrible. We need radical prison reform in this nation. Was anyone really surprised by what happened in Abu Ghraib? It happens here on a daily basis. That tether ole Lindy was using, they actually use those in SuperMax prisons here in the US.

    Re: Innocent Man to be Released After 24 Years (none / 0) (#3)
    by cp on Mon Mar 07, 2005 at 06:59:18 PM EST
    just out of curiousity, did they get a cold hit on that dna, when they ran it through the state computer file? most rapists don't stop at one, so i suspect whoever the actual perpetrator was, he has struck elsewhere. you know, much as i sympathize with mr. williams, why should i pay for the egregious errors of the state of louisiana. this is, after all, the state that gave us the new orleans pd, one of the most corrupt in the nation. it gave us a district attorney, harry conick, sr., who apparently couldn't control his own subordinates, resulting in a multitude of wrongful convictions. perhaps, it's time the good citizens of that state started to actually pay for their apparent apathy, with respect to their criminal justice system. maybe filing suit against the entire state's citizens and state/local officials, for wrongful imprisonment, violation of civil rights, might be a start. do it in federal court, so it can't be automatically tossed by a state judge. is that completely unrealistic? make it for a big number, not some penny ante million dollars. i'm thinking a billion, or a trillion. something to get their attention.

    Re: Innocent Man to be Released After 24 Years (none / 0) (#4)
    by wishful on Mon Mar 07, 2005 at 07:58:10 PM EST
    Let's talk a little about justice, shall we? Hmmm?

    Re: Innocent Man to be Released After 24 Years (none / 0) (#5)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Mon Mar 07, 2005 at 08:22:52 PM EST
    With DNA evidence now practically requried in the successful prosecution of a murder case (and available as a resource to the defense), we can all rest easier knowing Mr. William's plight is an anachronism.

    Re: Innocent Man to be Released After 24 Years (none / 0) (#6)
    by wishful on Mon Mar 07, 2005 at 08:53:49 PM EST
    Nameless Horse, DNA evidence being "practically required in...a murder case" is not the same as required. Further, DNA is not always present in a murder case. Also, Mr. William's plight included a lot of things, but a murder case was not among them. Last, there are many non-murder cases with very long sentences for which innocent people are convicted, and for which there is no DNA evidence to prove innocence. Resting easier is not an option until we are serious about just outcomes for our citizens who stand accused and are at risk of having their liberty taken away by we the people.

    Re: Innocent Man to be Released After 24 Years (none / 0) (#7)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Mon Mar 07, 2005 at 09:10:41 PM EST
    wishful The CJ system is not perfect, but it does require a jury of the accused's peers to find the accused guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt". Instead of changing the rules to make it more difficult to prosecute a crime, I submit that a better solution is to train Defense Attorneys to more effectively create that "reasonable doubt". It doesn't take much (RE: OJ)

    Re: Innocent Man to be Released After 24 Years (none / 0) (#8)
    by Rich on Mon Mar 07, 2005 at 09:49:29 PM EST
    Not released until March 11th? What the f&%ck are they waiting for? BTW-i apologize for the bad English. pretty amazing how a single case prosecuted poorly can undermine both the educational system and the legal system. No redemption to be found here. Mr. Williams will never find balance or satisfaction after this debacle.

    Re: Innocent Man to be Released After 24 Years (none / 0) (#9)
    by scarshapedstar on Mon Mar 07, 2005 at 10:00:51 PM EST
    Somehow, I imagine the yokels back home view this as considerably less troubling than "them homos what wants to get married"...

    Re: Innocent Man to be Released After 24 Years (none / 0) (#10)
    by wishful on Mon Mar 07, 2005 at 10:02:33 PM EST
    Rich, good point. What's being done that can't be done with Mr. Williams on the other side of the razor wire? Does anyone remember the guy in Texas who was found to be innocent when Bush the evil was Governor? It was well before Christmas, and the man had been wrongly incarcerated (death row?) for many years, but Bush decided that he not be released till after the holidays early the next year to make sure that the paperwork was in order. I am wondering if Bush's Jesus, being the designer of human free will, was weeping at this choice made by one claiming to be the spreader of the His Good News?

    Re: Innocent Man to be Released After 24 Years (none / 0) (#11)
    by Jlvngstn on Tue Mar 08, 2005 at 05:56:22 AM EST
    Tragic, another "eyewitness" testimony failure from the victim. I would be willing to send a check to Mr. Williams attorneys if they are considering outside assistance.

    Re: Innocent Man to be Released After 24 Years (none / 0) (#12)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Mar 08, 2005 at 10:06:09 AM EST
    With no friends and no experience living in freedom, I trust that Mr. Williams will be back inside in no time. I like this quote from the story:
    The victim, who now lives in another state, insisted at her home in January that she had not erred. "There was no mistake," she said. Informed of the DNA test results, she said, "That can't be true."
    There you go.

    Re: Innocent Man to be Released After 24 Years (none / 0) (#13)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Mar 08, 2005 at 10:37:09 AM EST
    ...knowing Mr. William's plight is an anachronism.
    ...a jury of the accused's peers to find the accused guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt".
    surely you gest! lol! here why!
    "There was no mistake," she said. Informed of the DNA test results, she said, "That can't be true."
    now what?

    Re: Innocent Man to be Released After 24 Years (none / 0) (#14)
    by wishful on Tue Mar 08, 2005 at 10:39:43 AM EST
    Mithras: Yet more confirmation that the founders had a clue when they devised and implemented a system that does NOT include vigilante justice. We are not being true to that system for the most part, because "tough on crime" is a good enough substitute for "and justice for all", according to voting Americans. Too bad.

    Re: Innocent Man to be Released After 24 Years (none / 0) (#15)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Mar 08, 2005 at 01:03:28 PM EST
    The incompetence and apathy of defense attorneys in many if not most of these death row cases is almost legendary. While I can probably put a few bucks in the hat for Mr. Williams, I'd be much more interested in efforts to ensure transparency and accountability for these folks' defense attorneys. I'd be for making defense attorneys liable for negligence in cases where they fail to secure readily available evidence such as DNA testing? And perhaps requiring any promotions for them to evaluate their performance in low-income cases? What do y'all think?

    Re: Innocent Man to be Released After 24 Years (none / 0) (#16)
    by wishful on Tue Mar 08, 2005 at 06:57:55 PM EST
    Eric, did you say accountability? I see that you didn't get the memo. Accountabilty is for the little people. Like Mr. Williams.

    Re: Innocent Man to be Released After 24 Years (none / 0) (#17)
    by Richard Aubrey on Tue Mar 08, 2005 at 07:00:42 PM EST
    I have no problem reviewing every case in which DNA might be the determining factor. That only means convictions, of course. There are probably a number of acquittals which could be reversed if DNA were part of the picture. Of course, you can't actually reverse an acquittal, but the point is this could be a two-edged knife in some fashion. The victim is likely defending herself, either from external reproach or internal guilt feelings. It would be reasonable to presume nobody would want that on their conscience. I have seen some tutoring going on in our library. It's interesting. The people sit at round tables, no more than three feet apart, tutor and student. They interact. I was almost going to say that, with that propinquity and th cumulative amount of time, you could eventually identify somebody by his or her smell. Smell is the most evocative of senses, apparently going to the hindbrain or something, which means that it will spur memories more than voice, sight, or touch. How can she have screwed this up? We are beginning to be educated that eyewitnesses are pretty lousy identifiers. The problem is that we would never consider ourselves to be that bad, so it's hard to project that to practically everybody else. There was once an experiment where a guy rushed into a classroom and threatened to shoot the teacher. The students, mostly, described the gun. The guy had been holding a banana. Are we in the process of generally disqualifying eyewitness testimony on the principle that it's no better than a Ouija board?

    Re: Innocent Man to be Released After 24 Years (none / 0) (#18)
    by Richard Aubrey on Tue Mar 08, 2005 at 07:07:15 PM EST
    Wishful. You missed the memo. It said nobody's supposed to pay attention to you. But I will. Americans want justice. The "tough on crime" theme is the result of the perception that too many people who are actually guilty are getting inadequate sentencing. Sometimes that merely annoys people who think the sentence was too light. Sometimes it means the perp gets loose too soon to commit more crimes. Nobody is saying to the innocent, like Aunt Polly when Tom Sawyer got smacked for Sid's misdeed, "You didn't get a lick amiss, I reckon." Nobody wants the innocent put in jail You got it wrong. But I expect it makes you feel superior and important to vilely accuse your fellow citizens of such evil. The reason you need to stoop to such tactics to feel adequate can be left to speculation. And, boy, will that be depressing.

    Re: Innocent Man to be Released After 24 Years (none / 0) (#19)
    by Johnny on Tue Mar 08, 2005 at 07:52:50 PM EST
    Actually Richard, there have been several instances on this board where people have stated that "even if he is innocent of this crime, he is guilty of others". Sorry, don't have anymore time to link to past threads proving this than you do refuting it.

    Re: Innocent Man to be Released After 24 Years (none / 0) (#20)
    by a on Tue Mar 08, 2005 at 08:25:34 PM EST
    I don't think this has been reported at all in the Louisiana media.

    Re: Innocent Man to be Released After 24 Years (none / 0) (#21)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Mar 08, 2005 at 08:33:50 PM EST
    I don't think this has been reported at all in the Louisiana media. Not so. Here's the Nola Times-Picayune.

    Re: Innocent Man to be Released After 24 Years (none / 0) (#22)
    by Richard Aubrey on Tue Mar 08, 2005 at 08:37:01 PM EST
    Johnny. If he's guilty of other crimes, he needs to be punished.If the folks have some information that he is guilty, what's the problem? If they don't, then they're talking about conviction or acquittal or not being arrested in the first place, not sentencing the innocent on general principles. The "tough on crime" issue being characterized as put the innocent in jail is stupid. It's not what happens. It's not what people want. Pretending it's so does make people like wishful feel superior.