A man serving a life sentence following his conviction for a 1982 rape and stabbing was freed last week after a match in a fingerprint database led to his exoneration.
The Innocence Project, a nonprofit focused on wrongful convictions, announced Thursday that Archie Williams had walked free after a Louisiana district court commissioner vacated his conviction after 36 years in prison.
“Mr. Williams first wrote to the Innocence Project for help in 1995. He was 35 years old,” Vanessa Potkin, the project’s director of post-conviction litigation, said in a statement. “Today, he walked out of prison at age 58.”
The commissioner, Kinasiyumki Kimble, moved last month to search an expanded FBI fingerprint database using prints left decades ago at the scene of the crime — a proposal to which prosecutors agreed.
Multiple fingerprints were left leading into the bedroom of the Baton Rouge home where the attack occurred, according to the nonprofit, all of which were ruled out as Williams’ at the trial.
The result: Fingerprint lifts taken from the scene led to the identification of another man, Stephen Forbes, who had confessed to multiple rapes after a 1986 arrest near the location of the crime for which Williams was convicted, the Innocence Project said.
Forbes died in prison in 1996, according to the nonprofit.
“If Commissioner Kimble had not insisted on, and First Assistant District Attorney Dana Cummings had not agreed to, a fingerprint search, Williams would have died in prison,” Emily Maw, senior counsel at the Innocence Project New Orleans, said in a statement.
Maw urged Louisiana lawmakers to give incarcerated people legal and open access to evidence that could prove them innocent and to allow experts to inform jurors how witnesses’ memories can unwittingly change over time.
The nonprofit said Williams was convicted “almost exclusively” on an identification by the victim, who identified Williams after seeing his photo a fourth time. Williams’ mother, sister and friend testified that he was asleep at home when the attack unfolded, the group recounted.
Williams’ relatives burst in tears Thursday after Kimble announced he would go free, citing “powerful evidence that Stephen Forbes committed this crime and Archie Williams did not,” according to The Advocate.
The newly freed man left courthouse surrounded by relatives, the newspaper reported.
“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, per WAFB-TV.
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