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Archie Williams

Other Exonerees Who Lost More than 30 Years to Wrongful Conviction
Around mid-day on December 9, 1982, a 31-year-old woman was in her home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when someone knocked on the side door of her home. A black man, whom she recognized from an encounter about a month earlier, said he was collecting clothes for the needy.

The woman, identified as A.E., became frightened and attempted to slowly close the door as they talked. The man shoved a flier through the opening and told the woman to read it, then pushed the door open and forced his way inside. A.E. ran to the front door to escape, but it was locked.

The man threw her to the floor and pinned her down while he removed a knife from a briefcase he was carrying. Holding the knife to her neck, he took A.E. upstairs, forced her into a child's bedroom and told her to disrobe. The attacker then removed his clothing and raped her twice. As he was attempting a third rape, a friend of A.E.’s arrived to drop off A.E.’s young daughter. The friend, S.A., honked the car horn. When A.E. did not come out, S.A. went to the side door, saw it was open and walked inside, calling A.E.’s name.

The attacker, who was holding his hand over A.E.’s mouth so she was unable to respond, then stabbed the A.E. in the abdomen. The rapist then pulled A.E. toward the door, stabbed her in the chest, and shoved the bedroom door closed.

By that time, S.A. along with her child and A.E.’s child, came up the stairs. At the top, they came face to face with the attacker, who pulled S.A. into the bedroom and threw her against the bedroom wall. The children ran and hid. S.A. begged the assailant to leave and offered her car for his escape. She covered her eyes and told him that she would not look. At about this time, there was a knock at the door downstairs, later determined to be a mail carrier attempting to deliver certified mail. Prompted by the knocking, the rapist dressed and fled.

S.A. took A.E. to the hospital where she underwent surgery for treatment of her stab wounds and a rape kit was taken. Afterward, A.E. said she saw the attacker wipe the bedroom door with his shirt before he left. S.A. gave a description of the rapist, which was used to make a composite drawing. She said that based on her height of 5 feet, 4 inches tall and that she was wearing three-inch heels, she estimated the rapist to a few inches taller than her.

On December 15, 1982, while still in the hospital, A.E., who was 5 feet 7 inches tall, said her attacker was 5 feet 9 to 5 feet 11 inches tall. She also helped police create a composite drawing. This picture differed from the earlier drawing made from S.A.’s description. A.E. also said she saw a scar near the attacker’s clavicle when he put his arms around her.

Later that day, police showed A.E. eight photographic lineups, each consisting of six pictures of black men. She did not identify anyone. The next day, December 16, police showed A.E. three more photographic lineups. Again, she did not identify anyone.

On January 3, 1983, no longer in the hospital, police showed A.E. six more photographic lineups, each containing six photographs. At this session, she said there was a person in one of the lineups that strongly resembled her attacker. She did not make a positive identification, but asked to see side views of the suspects.

Another lineup was composed using side views. She pointed to a photograph of 22-year-old Archie Williams—the only person whose photograph also had been in the earlier lineup—and suggested police “look for someone who looked like him.” A.E. did not positively identify Williams because she said his hair was different.

But the next day, January 4, 1983, police showed A.E. another photographic lineup. This one showed Williams with a different hairstyle and she positively identified him as her attacker. This was the third lineup in which she had viewed Williams.

Police arrested Williams that night. The following day, January 5, 1983, he was placed in a live lineup. A.E. again positively identified him—the fourth time she had viewed a lineup containing Williams—a practice that would years later be condemned as suggestive.

S.A. also viewed the January 5 live lineup. She identified someone else—not Williams—as the attacker, although she later testified that she actually wanted to make two choices, but police told her she could only pick one.

On April 18, 1983, Williams went to trial in 19th Judicial District Court in East Baton Rouge Parish on charges of attempted murder, aggravated rape, and aggravated burglary.

A.E. testified and identified Williams. She also identified a scar on Williams’s arm as the scar she previously she saw on the attacker's shoulder. A.E. said she had seen Williams about a month earlier when he came to her door looking for the “Williams” family.

S.A. identified Williams in court, but also conceded that when she viewed the lineup, she was not absolutely certain about her identification. She told the jury, “When I went into the lineup, there were six men, all about the same height, all about the same body build, all with approximately the same hairdo, all approximately the same age. So I was left with the impression of…eenie, meenie, miney, moe—just picking one. It could be almost at random. The things that I remembered were all the same.” She also testified that she had a first and second choice. Although she felt reasonably certain about her selection of Williams, she added she was only about 70 percent sure.

A serologist from the Louisiana State Police crime lab testified that he could not absolutely say that the seminal fluid detected in the rape kit was from Williams. He did say that his tests did not exclude the possibility that Williams was the rapist.

Police testified that fingerprints were found in the bedroom that did not belong to Williams, A.E., or her husband.

A police officer testified that Williams became a suspect after a confidential informant told detectives that Williams resembled the composite sketch created from A.E.’s description.

Williams, who was 5 feet, 4 inches tall—several inches shorter than the descriptions given by A.E. and S.A.—testified that he was home asleep at the time of the crime. His mother testified she saw him asleep in her North Baton Rouge apartment at 11:30 a.m., the approximate time of the offense. Williams’s sister and another friend, Albert Sterling, both testified that Williams was sleeping on the couch earlier that morning.

On April 21, 1983, the jury convicted Williams of attempted murder, aggravated rape, and aggravated battery. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In 1984, the Louisiana Court of Appeals upheld his convictions.

In 1995, in response to a letter from Williams, the Innocence Project in New York began re-examining his case and in 1996 filed a motion for DNA testing. The prosecution opposed the motion and it was denied. It was not until 2007 that an appeals court ordered the testing be done. However, the tests were not of value to Williams, because only the DNA of A.E.’s husband was identified.

Meanwhile, as early as 1999, the defense requested the prosecution submit the unmatched fingerprints from A.E.’s bedroom to the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). However, there was no law providing for such a search and the prosecution refused to do so.

Innocence Project attorneys Barry Scheck and Vanessa Potkin were subsequently joined by Innocence Project New Orleans attorney Emily Maw. They continued to fight to submit the fingerprints to IAFIS. Two fingerprint examiners had examined the fingerprints for the defense team and determined that nine were suitable for comparison. Nothing was done, however, because the prosecution continued to oppose the request as procedurally barred.

In 2009—without informing Williams’s lawyers—the prosecution submitted the prints to the Louisiana State Police crime lab for comparison, but no identification was made. In 2014, IAFIS was replaced by the Next Generation Identification (NGI), a more powerful and precise system for comparing fingerprints.

On March 14, 2019, on the order of 19th Judicial District Commissioner Kinasiyumki Kimble, the prosecution agreed to submit the prints to NGI.This database search produced a list of possibilities for comparison, including Stephen Forbes, who had been convicted of committing sexual assaults in the same neighborhood where A.E. was attacked. Fingerprint examiners from the Lousiana State Police Crime Laboratory and from the independent firm Ron Smith & Associates agreed that Forbes was the source of some of the nine fingerprints.

Forbes, who suffered from mental illness, had been arrested in 1986 after breaking into a home and attempting to sexually assault a woman less than two miles from A.E.’s home. After his arrest, Forbes confessed to four other rapes—two in 1985 and two in 1986. Ultimately, he was found competent to stand trial, pled guilty and was sentenced. Forbes died in prison in 1996. He was never questioned about the attack of A.E.

On March 21, 2019, the prosecution joined Williams’s attorneys in requesting that his convictions be vacated. The motion was granted, the charges were dismissed and Williams was released—36 years after his arrest.

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar C. Moore III, told Williams in court: “As a representative of the state, I apologize.”

In March 2020, Williams filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking damages for his wrongful conviction. He subsequently was awarded $330,000 in compensation by the state of Louisiana.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/23/2019
Last Updated: 10/5/2022
County:East Baton Rouge
Most Serious Crime:Attempted Murder
Additional Convictions:Rape, Burglary/Unlawful Entry
Reported Crime Date:1982
Sentence:Life without parole
Age at the date of reported crime:22
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No