Since 1989 U.S. courts have exonerated 2622 innocent people convicted of crimes they did not commit. Those 2622 wrongly convicted victims combined sentences added up to more than 23,000 years. It is estimated that as much as 5 percent of the U.S prison population are incarcerated for a crime they did not commit. Of the 2.3 million prisoners be held in U.S jails, 115,000 are innocent and about half of them are black. This is the story of one of them.
December 9, 1982
On December 9, 1982 in Baton Rouge Louisiana, a young women in her early thirties answered a knock on her door. Little did she know that the event would forever change her life and the life of a man she had never met. At the door was a black man whom T.V had faintly recognized from sometime a few weeks earlier. The man would be identified almost four decades later as Stephen Forbes. T.V is not the victims initials. I arbitrarily chose those initials as the law does not reveal the identities of rape victims. They initials stand for “the victim. The Rape Shield Laws were enacted in the United States during the latter part of the 70’s and early 80’s of the twentieth century. Most jurisdictions have some form of the law. While the main reason of the law was to protect victims from being judged on past sexual conduct by court officers, federal and state legislatures also prohibit the the publication of the identity of a potential rape victim. Anyway the man at T.V’s door was pretending to collect clothes for the needy. T.V sensed something wasn’t right and became afraid. As she was closing the door, the man forced his way into her home. She ran for the front door but could not escape because it was locked. So before we continue, I want to give those who don’t know a PSA (Public Service Announcement). If they come to the side door for any reason, shoot first and ask questions later… The man grabbed her and threw her to the floor. He then pulled out a knife which he held to her throat. He forced her upstairs to her daughters room where he ordered her to take her clothes off. He took his clothes off and raped her twice. As he was getting ready to rape T.V again, they heard the sound of a car horn. It was her friend T.O.V (the other victim), who was dropping off T.V’s youngest daughter. When T.V did not come out, T.O.V went to the side door. Seeing it was opened she walked in. Meanwhile the rapist was upstairs holding his hand over T.V’s mouth. He then pulled her from the bed and stabbed her in the stomach and chest then pushed the bedroom door close. After T.O.V and T.V’s daughter entered the home, they went upstairs where they came face to face with the rapist. He grabbed T.O.V and slammed her against the wall. The child ran back back downstairs and hid. She begged the rapist not to hurt her and offered her car for his escape. She put her hands over her eyes in order to assure the rapist that she could not identify him. Suddenly there was a knock on the door. The rapist panicked thinking the child had gone to get help. He put on his clothes and fled. Fortuitously the person knocking at the door was a mail carrier who was delivering a certified letter which required a signature. T.O.V took T.V to the hospital where she required surgery from her attackers wound. They also administered a rape kit. T.O.V gave the police a description of the rapist from which they made a composite. She estimated he was a few inches taller than her, based on the fact that she was 5’4 inches and wearing 3 inch heels. T.V said that the rapist had wiped the door knob before he left.
While still in the hospital, T.V had recovered enough to give authorities a more detailed description. She estimated the attacker to be between 5’9 and 5’11. She also gave them a description which differed from the one T.O.V had given. In addition she identified a scar near the rapist shoulder which she noticed when he grabbed her around the neck. That same day police showed T.V six lineup photos of black men. She was unable to identify any of the men in the photos. The next day they showed her more photographs in which she was also unable to identify her rapist. In the two days from December 15 through December 16, the police had shown T.V seventy two suspects. On January 3, 1983, the police showed T.V six more photographic lineups, each containing six photographs. This time she indicated that one of the suspects seem familiar. She did not make a positive identity, but asked to see the suspect from a side view. The police then gathered side views of all the suspects they had shown T.V. After seeing the side views of th subjects, she pointed to a picture of Archie Williams. She said Williams looked like the attacker but that the attacker had a different hair style. Williams picture was also the only picture of a suspect that had been in the previous photos the police had shown T.V. The police then showed T.V pictures of Williams with different hairstyles. This was the third time that T.V had seen Williams photo in the lineups. It was at this time she positively identified Willam’s as her attacker. The police arrested him that night. On January 3, 1983, police put William’s in a live lineup. T.V again positively identified him as her attacker. It was the fourth time she had seen him, three times in a photo and now in this live lineup. So before we move on, the practice of showing one particular subject multiple times in a limited number of suspects photos is not illegal, but it is condemned and frown upon by the courts as being suggestive. Anyway, T.V also said in that same live lineup that there were two people who resembled her attacker, with Williams being one of them. She told the police the same, but they told her she could only choose one.
On April 18, 1983, Williams went to trial in East Baton Rouge Parish on charges of attempted murder, aggravated rape, and aggravated burglary. In court T.V identified William’s as her attacker and identified a scar he had on his shoulder as being the scar that she saw on her attacker. She also said that she had seen him about a month earlier when he came to her door looking for the “William’s” family. My research into who she was talking about in reference to what Williams family she was referring to was not clear. Anyway, under cross examination T.V conceded that she was not absolutely sure about the identification…
“When I went into the lineup, there were six men, all about the same height, all about the same body build, all with approximately the same hairdo, all approximately the same age. So I was left with the impression of…eenie, meenie, miney, moe—just picking one. It could be almost at random. The things that I remembered were all the same.” (T.V’s testimony April 18, 1983)
She also told the court that she had a first and second choice but was 70% sure it was Williams who raped her. A serologist from the Louisiana State Police crime lab testified that he could not absolutely say that the seminal fluid detected in the rape kit was from Williams. He did say that his tests did not exclude the possibility that Williams was the rapist. A serologist assist in criminal investigations by analyzing blood, urine, saliva, semen and other bodily fluids found at crime scenes. Police testified that fingerprints were found in the bedroom but they did not match Williams, T.O.V or her husbands. Williams picture was included in the photos of subjects after a police informant said Williams resembled T.V’s composite sketch. Williams who is 5’4 or several inches shorter than T.V’S description testified he was home asleep at the time of the attack. His mother, sister and another witness all testified he was home asleep on the couch at the time of the attack. On April 21, 1983, the jury convicted Williams of attempted murder, aggravated rape, and aggravated battery. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He was 22 years old. The following year he appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court which promptly upheld his conviction. He would spend the next 36 years of his life locked behind the bars of Angola State Penitentiary.
The Upper Room
The innocence Project in New York began to take an interest in his case in 1995. In 1996 they filed a motion to get a DNA test done. The prosecution opposed the motion and it was denied. It would be another eleven years before an appeals court ordered the testing. Unfortunately the DNA test was not able to disqualify Williams, as the results only identified the DNA of T.V ‘s husband. Back in 1999 when the Innocence Project (IP) took up Williams case, they also requested the prosecution submit the unmatched fingerprints from T.V’s bedroom to the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). However since there was no law compelling the prosecution to cooperate, they denied the request. IP attorneys continued to fight the prosecution for years in order to get the fingerprints compared in the FBI national database. Still nothing was done by the prosecution because the IP could not compel them to do so. Sometime in 2009 without telling the IP about it, the prosecution submitted the prints to the Louisiana State Police crime lab for comparison, but no identification was made. Five years later in 2014, the IAFIS was replaced with Next Generation Identification (NGI), a more powerful and precise system for comparing fingerprints.
“On March 14, 2019, on the order of 19th Judicial District Commissioner Kinasiyumki Kimble, the prosecution agreed to submit the prints to NGI.This database search produced a list of possibilities for comparison, including Stephen Forbes, who had been convicted of committing sexual assaults in the same neighborhood where A.E. was attacked. Fingerprint examiners from the Lousiana State Police Crime Laboratory and from the independent firm Ron Smith & Associates agreed that Forbes was the source of some of the fingerprints.”
Forbes who was declared mentally incompetent was arrested in 1986 for burglary and rape of a women just two miles from where T.V was attacked. After being judged mentally competent to stand trial, he was tried and convicted. In all he confessed to four rapes in that area. He was never questioned about the attack on TV. He died in Angola prison in 1996. On March 21, 2019, the prosecution joined Williams’s attorneys in requesting that his convictions be vacated. The motion was granted, the charges were dismissed and Williams was released—36 years after his arrest. East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar C. Moore III, told Williams in court: “As a representative of the state, I apologize.”
After The Love Is Lost
You apologize ??? In March 2020, Williams filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking damages for his wrongful conviction. The federal government, the District of Columbia, and 35 states have compensation statutes of some form. Louisiana is one of those states and caps its compensation at $250,000. The federal government puts compensation at $50,000 per year and $100,000 per year if you are on death row. Sounds like a lot of money, but that would only be $1.8 million in Archie Williams case. When asked how did he survived when he went into the dark places, he said he would sang and pray. “Freedom is of the mind, I went to prison but I never let my mind go to prison,” I found out about Archie Williams when a friend sent me a video of him singing on America’s Got Talent. The song by Elton John, ” Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” was one of the most emotional performances I have ever seen. Knowing his background the song brought tears to my eyes. Tonight April 26 at 8pm, Archie Williams will be performing again on America’s Got Talent. It’s something you don’t want to miss. Here is the video of his first performance.
Update: Williams went on to perform at the AGT finals. Unfortunately he was not chosen the winner of the contest. However he did get to sing with Marvin Winans, one of his idols. You can see that here. Williams spent 37 years in one of the most notorious prisons in America, Angola in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for a crime he did not commit. Louisiana does pay compensation for people wrongly convicted, but it tops out at $250,000 paid out over 10 years. It you do the math it comes out to about $2800 a month. It’s not exactly New York or California, but still better than nothing. New York has no limit to how much an exonerees may be awarded while California allows for a maximum award of $140 per day for people who are wrongly imprisoned. That would be almost $2 million dollars in California. On the other hand it could be worst. For example Montana allows for tuition, room and board at a state community college, but no monetary amount. If it was me and I was in Montana, I would spend the rest of my life taking every course they have… because I would tell them I want to be the smartest man in the world… those @##!!. Anywho, I will try and keep an eye on Archie as he navigates the world that was taken from him many years ago. We all wish you well and godspeed.
Reprint: ©Hill1News 2019