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Hubert Williams

Other Maryland Exonerations
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At about 1:30 a.m. on October 25, 1997, a man with a gun entered the Amber Lounge in the Essex community of eastern Baltimore County. He demanded money from the bartender, Patricia Cloud. When she screamed, he fired once and hit her in the chest. The man then ran out the front door, where he met James Wardwell, a patron who had just taken out the trash. Wardwell was shot in the arm, and the would-be robber ran away.

While being treated at the hospital, Wardwell told the police he thought the robber was a man who went by the name “Little Joe.” Cloud disagreed. She also knew “Little Joe,” and told police she would have recognized him if he was involved.

A week later, on November 2, a Baltimore County police officer was flagged down by the manager of the Amber Lounge. He said he had just been in a nearby bar and seen a man who resembled the description given of the shooter – a white male in his 40s with dirty blond hair, weighing about 160 pounds and standing five feet, five inches tall. The manager said the man had a suspicious bulge in his back pocket.

When the police arrived, they found that the bulge wasn’t a gun; it was an umbrella. But they closely questioned the man, whose name was Hubert Williams. He was a 46-year-old Navy veteran who had been paroled less than five months earlier after serving 22 years for murder. Williams was taken to the police precinct and questioned for three hours, then released. Police questioned him again on November 3 and November 17, and he consented to a search of his apartment.

On November 3, Cloud and Wardwell separately looked at six-pack photo arrays that included Williams. Cloud picked someone else. Wardwell picked Williams, then called the police two days later and said he wasn’t sure. Williams, he said, looked a lot like “Little Joe,” who had been ruled out as a suspect.

On December 21, Cloud was back at work, and she went to the laundromat down the street to get some change. Inside, she saw Williams, who lived nearby, and then heard his voice. She was sure that he was the shooter. She called the police, and Williams was arrested and charged with two counts of attempted murder.

Wardwell was in the Baltimore County jail at the time. After being told of an arrest in his shooting, he surmised that he was likely to see his assailant while they were both at the detention center. He would later say that he immediately recognized Williams when he saw him at the jail, telling an acquaintance, “That’s the guy who shot me.” He later confronted Williams, who denied any involvement.

Prior to his arrest, Williams had discussed his predicament and the state’s evidence with an acquaintance named Danny Forbes, who was facing charges on burglary and drug possession. Forbes told police that Williams had confessed to him and said he shot Cloud because he had been scared.

Williams’s jury trial in Baltimore County Circuit Court began in early August 1998. There was no physical or forensic evidence tying him to the shooting. The state’s case hinged on the testimony of Cloud, Wardwell, and Forbes, who was given leniency on his pending charges.

Williams was convicted on August 7, 1998 on the gun possession and attempted murder charges and sentenced to 100 years in prison. The state’s prosecutor said, “I think it is fair to say that (Williams) is going to die in jail.”

That didn’t happen. In 2009, Williams filed a pro se motion for a writ of actual innocence. Unbeknownst to him, his case was already being independently reinvestigated.

On August 28, 2009, Det. Philip Marll of the Baltimore County Police Department interviewed a man named Richard McCloud, who had turned himself in on a bench warrant for an unrelated crime. Marll was one of the investigating officers in the Amber Lounge shooting and had harbored doubts about Williams’s guilt. McCloud said that his sister had told him that she drove the getaway car in the attempted robbery, and that her then-boyfriend, Bradley Insley, had been the shooter. Insley had an extensive criminal record and was serving a 20-year sentence on unrelated charges.

Over the next three months, with McCloud’s consent, Marll recorded a series of telephone conversations and one in-person visit between McCloud and his sister, where they discussed what she knew about the crime. Based on Marll’s findings, the Baltimore County Police Department determined that Williams was not involved in the Amber Lounge shooting and asked that he be given a writ of actual innocence. Judge Ruth Jakubowski granted the writ on November 30, 2009, and Williams was released from prison.

During his wrongful incarceration, Williams twice tried to kill himself. After his release, he continued to suffer from both physical and mental ailments; his case workers at the VA said he was unemployable. Because he had been out of the workforce for more than 30 years, he had little money and relied on a small military pension for financial support. He was frequently homeless and occasionally arrested for petty crimes.

In 2018, with the help of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, Williams filed a claim for slightly more than $1.2 million in state compensation through the Maryland Board of Public Works. If granted, his attorneys said, the money would be held in trust for his care and benefit, including housing and healthcare.

In his petition, his attorneys wrote: “Hubert Williams’s experience is difficult to translate into financial terms. His 12 years of imprisonment were not simply 12 lost years of life, which the legal system is reasonably equipped to measure. They were 12 years of savage violence, excruciating boredom, and overwhelming despair that left Mr. Williams a broken, unemployable man. He deserves compensation (1) for his time of wrongful imprisonment, (2) for his lost earning capacity stemming from that wrongful imprisonment, and (3) for financial and other counseling he will need going forward.” In October 2019, Williams was awarded $903,560 in state compensation.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 4/17/2019
Last Updated: 10/30/2019
State:Maryland
County:Baltimore
Most Serious Crime:Attempted Murder
Additional Convictions:Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:1997
Convicted:1998
Exonerated:2009
Sentence:100 years
Race:White
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:46
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No