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January 24, 2007

22 (Unnecessary) Years


On Tuesday evening, Willie O. “Pete” Williams, 44, walked free after serving 22 years—22 unnecessary years, that is. As in 192 similar cases, Williams was exonerated through the efforts of The Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal clinic dedicated to investigating postconviction DNA evidence for prisoners with compelling claims of innocence.

Williams was convicted of aggravated sodomy, kidnapping, and rape in 1985 and sentenced to 45 years. He served almost half of that in a Georgia prison, proclaiming his innocence the whole time. In July 2005, Williams contacted the Innocence Project to see if they could help him. Eighteen months later, he is now "catching up" with his family, including his younger brother, who was only 13 when Willie went to prison. His sister Tracy said that she trusted God to bring justice: “We prayed and relied on God and knew that God would put somebody in our path.”

When Williams walked out of jail after 10 p.m. on Tuesday, he said he was looking forward to a steak and potato dinner and “just living the rest of my life.”

Bruce Harvey, a volunteer attorney on the case, says that while the case means liberty for Williams, it highlights a fearful aspect in our trial procedures:

It’s redemption for him, and a continuing indictment of a system that relies almost entirely, in these kinds of cases, on evidence that we now know is the least reliable type of evidence available: eyewitness identification.

Not to throw eye-witness identification out the window--especially since we are given a template for it in Numbers 35--but maybe our courts could try harder to look beyond appearances, especially when 22 years are at stake.

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David Cervera

Stories like this are what make me hesitant about capital punishment. I fully agree that, "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed", but I'm increasingly unsure of our ability to mete out this sentence. A man imprisoned unjustly can be freed, but an innocent man executed can't be brought back to life.

Not to open a can of worms or anything...

Greg Laurich

David, I feel the same way. It's hard to unkill someone after the fact. Always been the sticking point with me.

Michael Snow

Two points:

The first did open a can of worms: "I fully agree that, "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed"

Most Christians can quote the verse but forget the rest of Scripture, and the reason that God commanded captital pumishment.

"If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses.... for blood pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it. 34You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I the LORD dwell in the midst of the people of Israel."
Numbers 35

Christ's Atonement has fullfilled that law.

Second: What happened to "beyond a reasonalble doubt?" Maybe we have more ourselves to blame than the courts with our 'law and order at any cost' mentality.

Katharine Eastvold

That's a very interesting interpretation of that verse. I'll have to think about it. Thanks for the thought-provoking comment!

Lindsay Coppinger

Thought provoking indeed, and I hope by "Christ's Atonement has fulfilled that law," you don't mean that by Christ's atonement the law is now set aside? Christ fulfilled the 'law of death' (on an individual basis) demanding our eternal damnation and separation from a holy and righteous God, but the requirements of the law (ie Ten Commandments) still stand.

Michael Snow

Katharine, do you believe that the requirements of the law that demand blood sacrifice still stand???

Michael Snow

I made a mistake on my last comment, addressing it to Katharine when it was Lindsay's point that I was addressing. Sorry

At the least, the State owes him 20 year's wages, times four.

Were there two eye-witnesses who agreed in their testimony? Or was it just 'circumstantial evidence'?

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