Last week, Charles Palmer was cleared of the 18-year-old murder case of Decatur, Illinois, attorney William Helmbacher. Based on new evidence, including DNA testing that excluded Palmer as the murderer, Macon County State’s Attorney Jay Scott asked Circuit Judge Timothy Steadman that the case against Palmer be dismissed.
“The totality of the evidence in this case shows that another person was involved in the physical attack upon William Helmbacher, which led to his death,” Scott said in a statement, according to the Pantagraph. “For that reason, justice demands that the case against Charles B. Palmer be dismissed.”
In August of 1998, Helmbacher was found dead in his apartment. He’d been bludgeoned to death with a hammer.
Palmer had an alibi for the night of the murder, but he was arrested and eventually convicted based on the testimony of an informant, his cousin Ray Taylor. A neighbor in Helmbacher’s apartment building, Taylor had been charged with burglarizing Helmbacher’s apartment the night before the murder. At trial, Taylor told the jury that Palmer had confessed to murdering Helmbacher, saying, “I had to beat the dude to death,” reports the Pantagraph. After testifying, Taylor’s burglary charge was dismissed. Palmer was sentenced to life in prison.
With the help of the Illinois Innocence Project and paralegal Fonda Williams, Palmer secured DNA testing which proved that the DNA found under the nails of the victim belonged to someone else. That evidence led the court to vacate Palmer’s conviction in November.
The prosecution had originally said that they would retry Palmer for Helmbacher’s murder. Last Tuesday, however, they learned that a local investigator had tracked down Taylor, who said that he would not testify against his cousin at trial this time. Without its key witness, the prosecution asked the court to dismiss the case.
“It’s just wonderful. Look at my family and my extended family,” said Charles Palmer to the Pantagraph.
Read more about wrongful convictions in Illinois: In Decades-Old Murder Case, Illinois Prosecutor Seeks Justice amid an Innocent Man’s Conviction