Herman Williams exonerated, launched from jail after serving almost 30 years for a homicide he did not commit

SHERIDAN, Ill. (CBS) — Herman Williams was in jail for against the law he did not commit for nearly 30 years – earlier than he was exonerated Tuesday because of the Illinois Innocence Project.

As CBS 2’s Tara Molina reported, Williams’ conviction was overturned based mostly on new DNA proof, defective forensics, and misconduct associated to his case.

A adorned member of the Navy, Williams – now 58 – was convicted in a homicide case again in 1993 in Waukegan, the place he was stationed.

Walking out the doorways of the Sheridan Correctional Center in LaSalle County on Tuesday a free man, Williams mentioned his story is a lesson by no means to surrender. 

“Anybody who knows me knows I couldn’t have done this,” Williams mentioned. “I wouldn’t have done this.”

The wrongful conviction occurred in 1994. A joyful launch got here in 2022.

“It’s still sinking in,” Williams mentioned, “but I feel vindicated – that’s the word.”

Williams embraced household and buddies in a approach he could not for nearly 30 years.

“Driving away from the prison, that was just overwhelming,” Williams mentioned. “Words can’t describe the feelings that run through me.”

He advised us minutes after stepping out of the Sheridan Correctional Center, he had one thing he wished everybody at house to listen to.

“Don’t give up,” he mentioned. “Never stop fighting for right.”

Williams spent almost 30 years in jail for against the law he didn’t commit – and against the law that tore his household aside.

On Sept. 26, 1993, Williams’ ex-wife, Penny Williams, was present in a shallow pond in Waukegan. She had gone lacking a number of days earlier, in response to the Innocence Project.

Ms. Williams died of blunt power trauma, and had defensive wounds that indicated a battle with an attacker, the Innocence Project reported.

At the time, Ms. Williams had been dwelling along with her ex-husband and their two youngsters – ages 3 and 6 – at his house in Gurnee, the place he was dwelling whereas stationed on the Great Lakes Naval Air Base. Both Mr. and Ms. Williams had been from Arizona, the Innocence Project reported.

Mr. Williams was remarried on the time, however was additionally separated from his then-current spouse, the Innocence Project reported.

The Innocence Project mentioned after Ms. Williams was reported lacking, the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force centered solely on Mr. Williams because the suspect. Prosecutors claimed he murdered his ex-wife so he might transfer to California – the place he was to be restationed on a naval ship – together with his present spouse and his youngsters, the Innocence Project mentioned.

Mr. Williams was convicted in February 1994 and sentenced to life in jail three months later by Lake County Judge Charles Scott.

In 2021, testing was performed on the male DNA discovered underneath Ms. Williams’ fingernails on the time of her post-mortem. The DNA didn’t match Mr. Williams’, the Lake County State’s Attorney’s workplace reported.

DNA evaluation additionally discovered the small quantity of blood present in Mr. Williams’ car was not that of Ms. Williams, the State’s Attorney’s workplace mentioned.

Meanwhile, Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit Chief Kevin Malia discovered that two totally different forensic pathologists agreed Mr. Williams’ trial jury heard proof that was “scientifically unsupported” in regards to the time Ms. Williams died.

In paperwork filed in July, each Lake County Forensic Pathologist Dr. Eimad Zakariya and defense-retained knowledgeable Dr. James Filkins agreed the 1994 trial knowledgeable – Dr. Nancy Jones – had wrongly narrowed the date of Ms. Williams’ demise to a window of time between the evening of Sept 22 and 23, 1993. Zakariya and Filkins mentioned Ms. Williams died a lot nearer to the time she was discovered on Sunday, Sept. 26, and there was no scientific foundation for Jones’ timeline.

Thus, a Lake County decide vacated Mr. Williams’ 1994 conviction.

The Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office acknowledged the detective on Mr. Williams’ case – who claimed Mr. Williams confessed when Williams insisted he by no means did – is now recognized for a sample of misconduct. Detective Lou Tessman, who had been deputy commander of the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force on the time, had a file of false confessions and claims suspects admitted guilt in different innocence instances, in response to the Innocence Project.

Among the opposite instances with which Tessman was concerned was that of Juan Rivera – who served greater than 19 years in jail for the rape and homicide of an 11-year-old woman in Waukegan that he didn’t commit – and that of Jason Strong, who was wrongly convicted of the 1999 homicide of a Carpentersville girl, in response to the Innocence Project.

The Innocence Project additionally mentioned Mr. Williams’ protection legal professional failed at his job. The protection legal professional failed to analyze the case totally, meet with forensic specialists, and cross-examine with a vital, however incompetent witness, the Innocence Project mentioned.

“Every conviction must have integrity; it must be grounded in science and in fact, and it must be the product of a fair police investigation and trial,” Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart mentioned in a news launch. “Because of deeply erroneous scientific evidence, new DNA results, and a faulty trial, our office was compelled to agree to Mr. Williams’ release. While we acknowledge that Mr. Williams is gaining his freedom due to overwhelming new evidence that calls into question the verdict, we know that the victim’s family is suffering to understand how so many mistakes could have been made nearly 30 years ago.” 

Lauren Kaeseberg of the Illinois Innocence Project has been preventing for today for about eight years.

“It does sort of fill your tank up. The work is hard,” Kaeseberg mentioned. “The wins are few and far between, but they’re being ones.”

Mr. Williams’ sister, Carolyn Langendorf, and father, Sonny Williams, each traveled from Arizona to be right here for this second.

“It’s good to have my brother back,” Langendorf mentioned.

“They haven’t broke his spirit,” mentioned Sonny Williams. “We’re going get back on the right track.”

Speaking of the correct observe, Mr. Williams had some plans for his first style of modified world. It was one thing he hopes hasn’t modified a lot.

“A cheeseburger with bacon,” he mentioned.

Herman Williams is the twenty second individual to be exonerated and launched by means of the Illinois Innocence Project.

More on the venture and his story on our web site proper now. 

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