A man serving a life sentence for a 1983 rape and stabbing he did not commit walked free from a Louisiana courtroom last week after fingerprint technology cleared him in the crime that landed him behind bars for nearly 36 years.
Archie Williams, 58, was all smiles on March 21 as he exited the 19th Judicial District courthouse last Thursday, surrounded by family and friends, after a Louisiana district court commissioners moved to vacate his wrongful conviction, The Advocate reported. The Innocence Project, a group dedicated to exonerating the falsely convicted, delivered the good news.
“Mr. Williams first wrote to the Innocence Project for help in 1995,” Vanessa Potkin, the project’s director of post-conviction litigation, said in a statement. “He was 35 years old. Today, he walked out of prison at age 58.”
In 1983, Williams was convicted in the rape and stabbing of a woman at her home in Baton Rouge after the victim identified him in a photo lineup presented by investigators. Williams’ mother and sister insisted he was home sleeping at the time of the attack, however, 11 of 12 jurors were convinced of the young man’s guilt.
As a result, a judge sentenced Williams to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Last month, district commissioner Kinasiyumki Kimble granted a request from Williams’ lawyers calling for a search of the FBI’s expanded fingerprint database using prints left at the crime scene decades ago. Prosecutors agreed to the request, allowing investigators to utilize advanced evidence technology that first became available in 2014 to conduct additional testing on prints lifted from the crime scene, which wound up matching that of another man: serial rapist Stephen Forbes.
After the results came back, both sides filed a joint motion exonerating Williams in the crime.
“The print matches are powerful evidence that Stephen Forbes committed this crime and Archie Williams didn’t,” Kimble said in announcing the exoneration. “In light of this evidence of his factual innocence presented to this court. … Mr. Williams should not and will not remain in prison for his conviction of this crime.”
The announcement spurred tears of joy from Williams’ relatives in the courtroom Thursday as they comforted one another with a tight embrace, according to The Advocate. The man’s family traveled from far and wide, flying in from California, Tennessee and even North Carolina to welcome their loved one back into freedom.
Emily Maw, senior counsel at the Innocence Project New Orleans, highlighted that had prosecutors not agreed to a fingerprint search, Williams likely would’ve died behind bars. After leaving the courtroom, a beaming Williams said he was thankful for his freedom but found it difficult to leave behind the countless other innocent people serving time for wrongful convictions.
“The sweet part about it is that I’m free, but the bitter part about it is that I’m not totally free because I inherited a family while I was in (prison) that’s just as innocent as I am,” Williams said, as reported by WAFB 9. “I’m not free until they’re free.”
Attorneys with the Innocence Project said Forbes admitted multiple rapes following his 1986 arrest. He also suffered from mental illness, they said. Forbes died in prison in 1996.