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Victor Williams

Other Wisconsin Cases Where No Crime Was Committed
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In January 2012, Jennifer Grata reported to police that her daughter had been raped by Grata’s boyfriend, 32-year-old Victor Williams, in his apartment in Black River Falls, Wisconsin.

Grata said her daughter, Sheleah, had confided in her that on November 4, 2011—four days before Sheleah’s 18th birthday—she had gone to Williams’s apartment where she smoked marijuana with him. After just two hits, she became so incapacitated that she had to lie down. While prone, she said Williams began fondling her and eventually raped her.

Williams, who had previously been convicted of battery and drug possession, was arrested on January 5, 2012 for violating his parole. Four days later, Jennifer Grata called police and said she had a backpack that Williams left in her residence. Inside the backpack, Jackson County Sheriff’s deputy Eric Rosandich found a .38-caliber revolver.

Rosandich inventoried the contents, which included a bus ticket to Madison, Wisconsin from Black River Falls, and asked Grata if she had ever seen Williams with the gun. “Grata said she had not,” Rosandich wrote in his report.On January 12, 2012, Jennifer and Sheleah met with Jackson County Sheriff’s Captain Timothy Nichols. During that meeting, Sheleah recounted how she was raped and said that as she was leaving Williams’s apartment, he threatened to harm her if she told anyone. During that interview, Jennifer said that not only had she seen Williams with the pistol, but also that he had once threatened her with it and pointed it at her face.

Williams was charged with second-degree sexual intercourse with a person who was under the influence of an intoxicant, intimidation of Sheleah, and illegal possession of a firearm.

Williams went to trial in Jackson County Circuit Court on October 3, 2012, and chose to have Judge Mark Goodman hear the case without a jury. The trial lasted one day.

Sheleah Grata testified she was going to a babysitting job and stopped by Williams’s apartment to buy $30 worth of marijuana. She said that she went into the apartment and they both smoked marijuana. She said that unlike other occasions when she smoked marijuana, she became disoriented and unsteady after just two hits and had to lie down because she couldn’t move. While she was lying on Williams’s bed, he took off her pants, pulled down her underwear and raped her. She said that after about an hour, she was steady enough to leave on foot. As she left, Williams yanked her back by her sweatshirt and said that if she told anyone about what had happened, he would make her life “a living hell.”

She said she had told the woman where she went to babysit what happened, but swore her to secrecy. The woman died not long after. She said she told her mother after her mother pointedly asked her if something had happened.

Jennifer Grata testified that she discovered that Williams had resumed a sexual relationship with Kristen Prusaitis, who lived in Madison, Wisconsin and with whom Williams had a son. Based on a conversation with Prusaitis, Grata said she began to suspect that Williams had made sexual advances toward her daughter. Jennifer said she confronted Sheleah who then revealed the sexual assault.

Deputy Rosandich testified for the prosecution about getting the backpack and handgun from Jennifer Grata, but was not asked whether Grata made any statement at that time. As a result, her statement that she did not see Williams with a gun was not presented. Rosandich’s report of that statement, the defense would later learn, was not disclosed to the prosecution or the defense.

Captain Nichols testified that Jennifer Grata and Sheleah told him about the rape, and that on four occasions Williams had a gun in his possession and that he once threatened Jennifer with it. Nichols also testified that Jennifer’s statement was consistent with her initial interview with Rosandich.Williams testified that he had consensual sex with Sheleah sometime after November 17—a week after she turned 18. Williams admitted that he had denied any sexual contact with her when Nichols interviewed him after his arrest. He explained that because he is black and Sheleah is white—as is most of the population of Jackson County—he didn’t think anyone would believe that the sex was consensual.

Williams described the incident almost exactly as Sheleah did, except he said she did not become incapacitated. Instead, he said she sat on his lap and became sexually aggressive. They then had sex and she left to go to her babysitting job.

Prusaitis, the mother of Williams’s son, testified that on November 4, 2011—the day Sheleah said the rape occurred—Williams drove to her residence in Madison to see their son. She said she particularly remembered that he spent the night there because he had to leave the next morning since she left as well to drive to Minnesota.

Judge Goodman convicted Williams on all three charges, and sentenced him to 12 years in prison.

In January 2014, a woman wrote a letter to the police saying that she had been told that Jennifer and Sheleah Grata had admitted to others that they lied about the rape and the gun. Specifically, she heard that they admitted that there had been no rape and that the gun and backpack actually came from Williams’s apartment—not Jennifer Grata’s residence. She got the backpack by using Williams’s keys.

The police re-investigated and found several people who said that not long after Williams was convicted, Jennifer admitted to them that she had falsely accused Williams because she was angry that he was having sex with her daughter (on several occasions) and at the same having a relationship with Prusaitis. Some of the witnesses said that Jennifer cleaned out Williams’s apartment after he was arrested and took about 4 ounces of crack cocaine that he had stashed.

As a result of the re-investigation, the prosecution joined in a defense motion to vacate and dismiss the sexual assault and intimidation charges on May 9, 2014. In the re-examination of the case, Rosandich’s report, which quoted Jennifer Grata as saying she never saw Williams with a gun, was discovered and disclosed to Williams’s defense attorney. On June 23, 2014, the prosecution moved to vacate the gun possession charge and dismissed that charge as well.

In 2015, Nichols was placed on leave and resigned from the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department during an internal investigation for failing to properly file reports relating to evidence, mishandling federal funds, and driving while intoxicated.

In August 2016, Williams filed a federal wrongful conviction lawsuit against the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department as well as Nichols and Rosandich.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 11/12/2016
State:Wisconsin
County:Jackson
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:Other Violent Felony, Gun Possession or Sale
Reported Crime Date:2011
Convicted:2012
Exonerated:2014
Sentence:12 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:32
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No