In August 1983, Denise Walker was shot and killed during a robbery in the Los Angeles, California home of her boyfriend, Willie Finley. One robber hit Finley on the head as he was returning from a store, and then brought him into the house where he ordered Walker to let in a second robber.
Walker’s mother told police that Walker had been robbed a year earlier by Willie Green. Finley identified Green as the second robber in a photo lineup and in an in-person lineup, and he and another witness testified that Denise Walker had said “Willie” when she saw the second robber.
At trial, the defense suggested that Walker might have meant Finley – whose first name was also Willie – but Finley testified that all his friends knew him as “Doug.” Finley also testified that the blow to his head had no effect on his vision, and that he was not under the influence of any drugs at the time.
In 1984, a jury convicted Green of murder and armed robbery and sentenced him to 33-years-to-life in prison.
Ultimately, Green enlisted the support of Centurion Ministries, a New Jersey-based nonprofit that works to overturn wrongful convictions.
In 2004, during their reinvestigation, Finley recanted his testimony. He said that he was high on crack during the killing, that his vision had been impaired by the earlier blow to his head, and that he did not identify Green until police suggested that Green was one of the robbers and told him about Green’s earlier robbery of Walker.
Based on Finley’s recantation, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge vacated Green’s conviction in March 2008, and prosecutors decided not to retry him.
Green filed a civil rights lawsuit seeking damages from the detective who arrested him because, the lawsuit claimed, the detective had coached witnesses to identify Green. The lawsuit went to trial in 2011, and a jury returned a verdict for the detective.
- Stephanie Denzel