Back in 1983, Archie Williams was convicted in a Louisiana court for a brutal attack of a housewife in Baton Rouge. Now the courts say they got the wrong man, and Williams has been freed after spending 36 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.
On the fateful day so many years ago—in December of 1982—a woman opened the door to what she thought was a plumber or carpenter returning to work on her home. The man at the door, who had stopped by a few weeks earlier under the ruse of asking for directions, overpowered her, took her to the upstairs of her home, and raped her repeatedly at knifepoint, ultimately stabbing her twice and fleeing the scene when a friend of the victim walked in and discovered what was going on.
Williams’ conviction in 1983 was based almost in its entirety on the positive ID of Williams in a lineup by the victim. The victim picked out Forbes photo from around 100 others. Her friend, who had also seen the attacker, chose a different photo and gave a different description of the suspect at the time.
Attorneys with the Innocence Projects, whose efforts led to Williams’ being freed, say that police zeroed in on Williams because he was arrested but not convicted of two rapes in 1979. At the time of Williams’ trial, prosecutors knew that the bloody fingerprints left at the scene belonged to someone other than Williams but had argued that they could have belonged to anyone who had been in the house and were not necessarily the attackers. In addition, Williams was provided an alibi by three individuals accounting for his whereabouts at the time of the crime.
The man who turned out to be the actual rapist—Stephen Forbes—continued his spree of terrorizing women in Baton Rouge for several more years before he was arrested in 1986. Police at the time were responding to an attempted rape in progress; a woman’s screams led them to the 74-year-old victim lying “bound and beaten” on the floor of her living room. After his arrest, Forbes confessed to four more rapes, many of them that sounded much like the attack on the housewife for which Williams was already serving time.
Advancements in fingerprint technology led to Williams’ exoneration earlier this month when a print from the crime was matched positively with Forbes. Forbes was serving a 20-year sentence in prison at the time of his death in 1996. Forbes confessed to police that he had been raping women since age 14. Court records show that Forbes suffered from mental issues and expressed religious delusions and auditory hallucinations.
In this case, a 22-year-old man was imprisoned until age 58 for something he did not do. This travesty of justice underscores the fact that our legal system is imperfect. “Innocent until proven guilty” did not work for Mr. Williams in this case. If you are facing a serious sex-related charge, hiring an experienced San Francisco sex crimes defense attorney is a crucial step in fighting the charges against you. Contact Okabe and Haushalter to discuss your case and potential defenses now.