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DNA Evidence Exonerates Wrongly Convicted Man

March 20, 2013

Fred Thiagarajah

Johnny Williams, a 37-year-old Oakland resident, was exonerated via DNA evidence after spending 14 years behind bars for the rape of a 9-year-old girl.

Mr. Willaims is the second person in three weeks that was prosecuted in Alameda County and served a substantial prison term but was released when attorneys from the Northern California Innocence Project took over his case because they believed he was wrongly convicted.

This past February, 51-year-old Ronald Ross was freed after spending nearly six years in prison for a wrongly convicted shooting that took place in 2006 in West Oakland.  On Friday, March 8, 2013, prosecutors began to look at the case of Mr. Williams and conceded that they had imprisoned the wrong person for the rape of the girl back in 2000.

Mr. Williams’s attorneys said that he was not ready to comment.  However, in a handwritten letter to Superior Court Judge Larry Goodman, Mr. Williams described himself as blessed to have learned a lesson in prison that: “life is truly precious.”

The case originated in September 1998 when a 9-year-old girl reported that she was sexually assaulted on two consecutive days as she walked to her school, East Oakland School.  According to court records the victim told her mother that he attacker was a stranger, although the man referred to himself as “Johnny.”  The victim’s mother told Oakland investigators about a former neighbor and family friend named Johnny.  This led investigators to Mr. Williams who was 23 at the time.  Mr. Williams was arrested one week after the victim picked him out of a photo lineup and testified at the trial that Mr. Williams had in fact attacked her.

Prosecutors at the time said that the lab tests on the girl’s clothing, “found nothing.”

But after the Northern California Innocence Project and a group that reviews convictions that could possibly be overturned via DNA evidence, the California DNA Project, took over Mr. Williams case in 2007 they found evidence claiming that the girl’s clothing “conclusively excludes” Mr. Williams.

Catherine Kobal, an AlamedaCounty deputy district attorney, said that “After extensive review of the case, the trial, and the new evidence, the people agree that the DNA results undermine the prosecution’s case and point unerringly toward Mr. Williams’ innocence.”

In his handwritten letter to the judge, Williams said he hoped Oakland police would reopen their investigation. A Police Department spokesman said that authorities had just learned of the ruling and had not yet reviewed the case.

“I have nothing but love and respect for the family,” Williams wrote, “and I hope they will see in the future that I am not the person who did this.”

For the full story and video click here.


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