In 1993, the body of Penny Williams was discovered lying in a shallow pond in Waukegan, Illinois.
At the time, authorities believed Herman Williams, Penny’s former husband, killed her in order to gain custody of their two children.
The 11-year Navy veteran, who maintained his innocence, was convicted of murder in her death in 1994 and sentenced to life in prison, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Nearly 30 years later, prosecutors, Williams’ attorneys and a county judge all agreed — the veteran, now 58 years old, was wrongly convicted.
According to the Lake County News-Sun, Williams’ conviction was overturned on Sept. 6, and he was set free.
“This horrific crime not only robbed two children of their mother, but because of a flawed investigation, lies from police and prosecutors, and withheld evidence, they also had their father taken from them,” Lauren Kaeseberg, Williams’ attorney at the Illinois Innocence Project, said in a post on the organization’s website.
“Mr. Williams lost nearly three decades of his life, and his children had to grow up thinking their own father killed their mother — because of the misconduct and faulty forensics that plagued this case,” she said.
His attorneys found that much of the evidence in the case was questionable.
For instance, advanced DNA testing showed that the biological evidence found at the scene of the crime did not match Williams.
The Innocence Project alleged that even at the time of Williams’ conviction, the forensic testimony tying him to the murder was unsupported by the evidence.
It also said key testimony from one officer in the case was suspect. The officer told the jury that Williams had confessed to the crime.
As it turns out, this officer has since been found to have secured a number of false confessions, according to the Innocence Project. In cases with other suspects who had been found to be innocent, the officer claimed those suspects had admitted guilt.
Furthermore, not all of the pertinent evidence was shown to the jury. According to the News-Sun, prosecutors “apparently failed to disclose favorable evidence” during the initial trial.
“This is yet another example of how experts, under the veneer of mythic infallibility, can sway a jury even with testimony void of any scientific basis,” Vanessa Potkin, one of Williams’ attorneys, said, according to the Innocence Project.
BREAKING: After 29 years of wrongful conviction, Herman Williams has just had his conviction overturned based on new DNA evidence, faulty forensics in his trial, and misconduct in his case. Herman is an @innocence and @innocenceIL client. https://t.co/Qjp6NbGpIH
— The Innocence Project (@innocence) September 6, 2022
On Sept. 6, Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart said his office no longer believed the conviction was justified.
“Every conviction must have integrity; it must be grounded in science and in fact, and it must be the product of a fair police investigation and trial,” Rinehart said in a statement.
“Because of deeply erroneous scientific evidence, new DNA results, and a faulty trial, our office was compelled to agree to Mr. Williams’ release,” he said.
“While we acknowledge that Mr. Williams is gaining his freedom due to overwhelming new evidence that calls into question the verdict, we know that the victim’s family is suffering to understand how so many mistakes could have been made nearly 30 years ago.”
Rinehart added, “This is a sad and difficult day in Lake County. We will continue to support the family and investigate the DNA evidence that has been recovered. We will coordinate with law enforcement and state forensic labs to determine what leads we can follow from the new evidence. Our job is to fight for the victim no matter how long it takes.”
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