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Clarence Von Williams


On April 30, 1979, an intruder wearing a ski mask raped a 40-year-old woman and her teenage daughter and sexually assaulted her son at their home in Bridge City, Texas. The victims reported that they were blindfolded during the assault but were able to catch glimpses of the perpetrator from under the blindfolds.
 
The victims described the assailant as a white male who was approximately 5’10” with dark brown or black hair, a mustache and weighing about 180 to 200 pounds.
 
In May 1979, police arrested Clarence Von Williams (sometimes referenced as Clarence "Von" Williams) for these crimes. The victims stated that the perpetrator looked like Von Williams, a refinery worker and divorced father of two who had never been arrested before this time. Von Williams, who claimed he was innocent and had been out drinking with friends on the night of the attack, was indicted by an Orange County Grand Jury.
 
The first trial of Von Williams was in 1981 and ended with a deadlocked jury. His second trial, in October 1981, ended in his conviction for aggravated rape. In both trials, all three victims identified Von Williams as the rapist. He was sentenced to fifty years in prison.
 
Shortly thereafter, 30-year-old Jon Barry Simonis, known as the “Ski Mask Rapist,” confessed to over 77 rapes in eleven states, including those for which Von Williams was serving a prison sentence. Simonis accurately provided many additional nonpublic details about the rapes in Bridge City, leading authorities to believe his confession. The charges against Von Williams were dismissed and he was released on December 4, 1981. Bradley Cox from Lancaster, Ohio, had also been wrongfully convicted of two rapes and robberies committed by Simonis. Cox was released from prison in January 1982, following Simonis’s confession that he had committed these crimes.
 
Von Williams sued Bridge City in federal court for $15 million in damages based on 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming the city, its police officers and the prosecutor had improperly handled the investigation and case and had violated his constitutional rights. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas dismissed the lawsuit on the basis that the valid arrest of a person later found to be innocent does not make the arrest unlawful under the Fourth Amendment.
 
– Meghan Barrett Cousino
State:TX
County:Orange
Most Serious Crime:Rape
Reported Crime Date:1979
Convicted:1981
Exonerated:1981
Sentence:50 years
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:40
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID