BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A year after leaving a Louisiana courthouse with his first taste of freedom in over three decades, singer Archie Williams plans on heading back in.
Williams’ attorneys hope the next time Williams leaves, it’ll be with compensation for time served for a crime he didn’t commit.
Williams is the longest client served by the Innocence Project, an organization that represents the wrongfully convicted around the nation.
The organization claims it worked since 1995 to free Williams from a life sentence for a 1982 rape and stabbing in Baton Rouge.
THE 1982 CRIME AS DOCUMENTED IN COURT RECORDS
It was mid-day in December of 1982.
A Baton Rouge woman whose name is omitted from court records opened a side door at her home on Perkins Road where someone was knocking.
Standing at her doorstep was a man who’d knocked a month earlier claiming he was looking for another person’s home. This time he claimed he was collecting clothes for the needy.
Frightened, the woman tried to close the door.
The man shoved a flier through the cracked door and told the woman to read it as he pushed his way into the home.
The woman ran to another door. It was locked.
The man pinned her on the floor and held a knife to her neck.
He forced her into an upstairs bedroom where he raped her twice.
A friend of the woman arrived with the woman’s daughter as the assailant attempted a third rape.
The friend honked the horn, then walked into the home when no one responded.
Upstairs the assailant held his hand over the woman’s mouth.
He stabbed the woman in the stomach, then in the chest and closed the bedroom door.
The assailant came face-to-face with the woman’s friend and her daughter who came upstairs.
He pulled the woman’s friend into the bedroom as the child ran and hid.
The woman’s friend pleaded with the man to take her car and leave. She said she would not look at him and could not describe him.
Another knock came from downstairs.
This time, a postman was attempting to deliver certified mail.
The assailant dressed and fled, wiping the bedroom door with his shirt before he left, according to the victim’s testimony.
DEVELOPING A SUSPECT
The woman gave detectives a description of the assailant while recovering at a hospital on December 15, 1982.
She reconstructed the assailant’s face in a drawing. It differed from a drawing made by her friend.
That same day she was shown photographs of eight lineups. Each lineup consisted of black men fitting her description.
None were identified as the assailant.
She was shown more photos the next day by Detectives Groht and Mondrick.
Again, no identification was made.
She was shown more lineups on January 3, 1983.
Detectives said the woman claimed one person resembled her attacker. It wasn’t a positive identification though.
She asked to see side views of the men in the photographs.
Only Archie Williams’ photograph was shown again.
Detectives claimed the woman said they should “look for someone who looked like [Williams],” but did not identify Williams as the assailant because of differently styled hair.
Detectives brought more lineup photos the next day, one with Williams’ hair styled differently.
The detectives claimed the woman identified Williams as the assailant.
Williams was arrested later that same day.
He was placed in a lineup the next day. The woman again identified him as the assailant, detectives claimed.
The woman’s friend, however, identified another man in that lineup as the assailant. The woman’s friend testified she had two choices but was told to pick one.
The woman identified Williams in-court as the assailant and identified him by a scar on his arm she claimed she noticed during the attack. Initially, she stated the scar was on his right clavicle but at trial stated the scar was on his right upper arm, court records show.
Williams fought the charges. Both his mother and sister testified he was home, asleep in a North Baton Rouge apartment at the time of the crime.
Williams lost that fight. He was convicted and sentenced to life without parole in April of 1983.
THE FIGHT FOR FREEDOM
In 1984, the Louisiana Court of Appeals upheld Williams’ conviction.
In 1995 the Innocence Project in New York took Williams on as a client and reexamined his case after being contacted by letter.
As time passed and technology improved, law enforcement officials gained the ability to further test DNA that was collected from a rape kit against Williams’ DNA, and compare the fingerprints collected at the scene to Williams’.
Records show prosecutors refused to consent to either test.
A court later ordered that the DNA testing be completed.
DNA from the woman’s husband was found which did not prove Williams’ innocence or guilt.
A comparison of the fingerprints completed in 2009 showed no prints collected at the scene matched Williams’.
More time passed and the system used to compare fingerprints grew more reliable. The database of fingerprints had grown by several million.
Williams’ attorneys again requested his fingerprints be compared to those collected at the scene.
A list of other suspects matched, notably Stephen Forbes.
THE NEW SUSPECT
Stephen Forbes, a man suffering from mental illness, was arrested in June of 1986 for breaking into a home on July Street and attempting to rape a woman there, according to court documents.
Forbes, when being questioned, allegedly confessed to two other rapes in 1985 and two rapes in 1986, records show.
He claimed the victims in each case were raped at knifepoint, according to court records.
Investigators found the home on July Street was two miles from the home where the 1982 rape took place.
The home where the 1982 rape took place was, in fact, in the center of the area where Forbes’ spree of rapes occurred, court records show.
Records suggest Forbes admitted to raping women since he was 14 years old. In 1986, at the time he was arrested for the July Street crime, Forbes was 19.
Forbes pled guilty and died in custody in 1996.
There is no record suggesting Forbes was asked if he committed the 1982 rape, according to court documents.
Nonetheless, investigators determined Forbes may have committed the rape Williams was jailed for.
Williams walked out of the 19th Judicial Courthouse in Baton Rouge on Thursday, March 21, 2019, locking arms with some of the attorneys who’d represented him over the decades.
Family members who traveled to Louisiana tearfully embraced him.
Moments earlier, prosecutors and Williams’ attorneys jointly requested that his convictions be vacated.
“Being innocent is a thing where you’ll never give up on yourself. You’ll always fight for your freedom. You know, no matter what,” Williams said in his first public statements on the steps of the courthouse. “I just fought for this moment. I never gave up. Because, [God] wouldn’t let me give up.”
Later in the year, Williams fulfilled his dream of performing at Amateur Night at the Apollo.
“I was in my first band when I was 12,” Williams told the Innocence Project. “Throughout my incarceration at Angola, I sung. I sung gospel in the church, and started my own band. Music helped me get through prison. I always envisioned myself on stage at the Apollo one day.”
Williams is cited in an article from NPR saying it was his desire to sing songs by Stevie Wonder.
“I’m pretty sure everyone can relate to ‘I Wish,’” Williams told NPR. “It talks about when we was kids, the things we used to do — that’s what the song is all about. ‘I wish those days would come back once more. Why did those days have to go?’”
In that same article, Williams expressed the difficulty he faced in the immediate months trying to acclimate to the world 36 years later.
“Today’s technology is really my hardest part of what’s going on in today’s society,” he said. “I’m learning ... trying to get back into society like I once was.”
THE 2020 LAWSUIT
Metairie attorney Jeffrey Mitchell describes the actions taken by investigators as “calculated,” “coordinated,” “reckless," and "intentional” in a lawsuit filed Tuesday, March 17, 2020.
Several defendants are named in the lawsuit.
Among them are:
Former Baton Rouge Police Department detectives Charles Mondrick and Marjorie Groht. Mitchell claims the two detectives:
- Allegedly ignored “significant discrepancies” between the descriptions of the suspect given by the woman and her friend, and Williams’ physical build, according to Mitchell’s lawsuit.
- Allegedly were joined by another former detective, Steven Woodring, and showed the woman a photo of Williams. Then later showed the woman other photos of Williams during several later attempts to identify a suspect, according to Mitchell’s lawsuit. Mitchell claims Williams was the only person whose photo was shown to the woman multiple times.
Former forensic specialist of the Louisiana State Police Crime Laboratory Patrick Lane; former investigator with the Office of the District Attorney for East Baton Rouge Parish, now District Attorney, Hillar Moore; and former fingerprint examiner of the Louisiana State Police Crime Laboratory Sybil Guidry. Mitchell claims they:
- Allegedly failed to turn over certain photographs of fingerprints documented at the crime scene and used by prosecutors in Williams’ trial, according to the lawsuit. Mitchell describes the photographs in the lawsuit as “exculpatory.” In the lawsuit, Mitchell claims the photographs were only discovered in 2002 by investigators and analysts working on behalf of Williams.
Former forensic scientist Jerry Miller. Mitchell claims Miller:
- Allegedly failed to conduct “commonly used” serology tests which could have eliminated Williams as a suspect, according to the lawsuit.
- Allegedly made reports claiming the tests had been completed and concluded Williams “could not be excluded,” according to the lawsuit. Mitchell claims Miller “deliberately omitted the fact that over 90% of the population also could not be excluded,” and “deceptively overstated, failed to provide a reasonable context for, and distorted the results of the tests he conducted.”
Several unnamed officers and investigators are included in the lawsuit as “John Doe.” The city is also a defendant in the lawsuit.
Court records show summons have yet to be issued.
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