LOUISIANA (USA): FORMER DEATH-ROW PRISONER COREY WILLIAMS WAS RELEASED ON PLEA AGREEMENT, AMID EVIDENCE OF INNOCENCE, MISCONDUCT
May 22, 2018:
Williams, 36, Black, walked free from prison in Louisiana on May 21, 2018. (Source: Washington Post, Hands off Cain, 22/05/2018)
The deal was bittersweet for Williams, for despite the evidence of innocence, he had to agree to plead guilty to lesser charges of manslaughter and obstruction of justice to obtain his freedom.
In a statement released to the media, Amir Ali, Williams' lead counsel in his U.S. Supreme Court proceedings, said: “Imagine your child leaving to hang out with friends, and then losing him or her for twenty years. No one can give Corey back the time that he wrongfully spent behind bars, away from his family and friends. Today, we ensure this tragedy ends here—Corey can finally go home." Williams, who is intellectually disabled, was just sixteen years old when he was arrested for the murder of Jarvis Griffin, 23, a pizza deliveryman in Caddo Parish, Louisiana.
Police interrogated him overnight, eventually leading him to confess, despite knowing that he was intellectually disabled and therefore more susceptible to confessing falsely. Williams' attorneys said, "His confession was brief, devoid of corroborating details. Having just assumed responsibility for a homicide, Corey told the officers, 'I'm tired. I'm ready to go home and lay down.'" Witnesses reported seeing several older men rob the victim. Fingerprints from one of those men were found on the murder weapon, and the victim's blood was found on the clothing of another man. A third possible suspect, Chris Moore, nicknamed “Rapist,” was the only witness who testified against Williams. Prosecutors withheld recordings of witness interviews that supported Williams' innocence claims. Those recordings showed that police suspected Moore and the two other men were trying to frame Williams.
Williams was sentenced to death, but his death sentence was vacated six years later after the U.S. Supreme Court declared the use of the death penalty against people with intellectual disability to be unconstitutional. Hugo Holland, who along with Dale Cox, is responsible for 75% of death sentences imposed in Louisiana from 2010-2015, prosecuted Williams' case. He was later investigated for withholding evidence in a separate case, and had to resign his post due to other misconduct.
At the time the plea deal was made, Williams had an appeal pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, seeking review of his case based upon the prosecution's improper withholding of exculpatory evidence. Forty-four former state and federal prosecutors and Department of Justice officials—including former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey—filed a brief in support of Williams' claim, urging the U.S. Supreme Court to grant him a new trial. The plea deal ends the litigation of that case. Under the terms of the plea agreement, filed in a Louisiana district court Monday, his first-degree murder conviction and sentence were vacated. Williams instead pleaded guilty to manslaughter and obstruction of justice and was sentenced to time served.
The deal was approved Monday by Caddo Parish District Judge Katherine Dorroh, who then vacated Williams’ first-degree murder conviction. Her involvement, too, is ironic. She had ruled against Williams once before in the case and perhaps is best known as the trial judge who denied compensation for Glenn Ford, another man who spent decades in a Louisiana prison for a wrongful conviction before dying shortly after his release.
Because Williams pled guilty on related charges, he does not meet the criteria to be included on DPIC's Innocence List. False confessions have been a recurring feature in many cases involving people who were convicted of crimes but later cleared.
Last year, 139 people convicted of crimes were exonerated, and one in five had falsely confessed, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.