Convicted of rape in 1983, Williams is serving life without parole in Angola and has filed at least 10 motions in state and federal courts seeking DNA testing
(BATON ROUGE, LA; August 22, 2007) – A state appeals court in Baton Rouge ruled this week that Archie Williams has a legal right to DNA testing that could prove his innocence in a rape and attempted murder for which he was convicted in 1983. The ruling comes nearly a quarter-century after Williams was convicted – and 11 years after attorneys for Williams filed the first legal motion seeking DNA testing in the case.
The case stems from a December 1982 attack at a woman’s Baton Rouge home. An unknown assailant pushed his way into her house, raped her and then stabbed her. The victim and a friend (who entered the home during the attack) were both asked to identify the perpetrator in lineups. In a live lineup that included Williams, the victim’s friend identified another man. The victim was shown 17 different photo arrays. In the first two, she did not identify Williams, but his photo was in the last three consecutive photo arrays, and she identified him in the last one (Williams’s was the only photo shown in more than one photo array). He was convicted in April 1983 based on the victim’s identification, even though he did not match her initial description of the perpetrator (among other factors, Williams is about a half-foot shorter than the perpetrator as described by the victim). Years after he was convicted, analysis showed that Williams was not the source of bloody fingerprints that the perpetrator left at the crime scene after stabbing the victim.
In December 1996 – after unsuccessfully trying to persuade the Baton Rouge District Attorney to agree to DNA testing without a court order – Williams’s attorneys filed a motion in state court asking for DNA testing. That motion was denied, as were at least nine others over the next 11 years that were filed in state and federal courts. Even after the Louisiana Legislature passed a law in 2001 explicitly granting access to post-conviction DNA testing, prosecutors opposed Williams’s motions seeking testing, and courts denied testing.
"In many of the 206 cases nationwide where DNA has exonerated wrongfully convicted people, it took years to secure DNA testing, but we have never seen a case as egregious as this one. This is precisely the kind of case where DNA can prove guilt or innocence irrefutably and quickly, but it has taken well over a decade just to secure a court order to have DNA testing conducted,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo Law School. “It is truly incomprehensible and simply unconscionable that it has taken so long to secure testing in this case."
At Williams’s trial, prosecutors noted that motile sperm were collected in the victim’s rape kit. DNA testing was not available at the time, but prosecutors said the sperm came from the perpetrator and that Williams had the same blood type as the perpetrator. In court filings in recent years, the Baton Rouge District Attorney’s office has switched course and said DNA testing on the sperm would not prove Williams’s guilt or innocence, since the victim might have had consensual sex with her husband. Motile sperm, like that collected from the victim immediately after the attack, is only present for a few hours after it is deposited. In court filings, the Innocence Project has said that if the victim had consensual sex shortly before the rape, there could be two men’s DNA present (the victim’s husband and the perpetrator), and DNA testing could reveal both profiles – still proving whether or not Williams is innocent.
DNA testing has exonerated nine people in Louisiana in the last eight years. In four of those nine cases, DNA didn’t just prove that wrongfully convicted people were innocent – it helped identify and apprehend the true perpetrators of the crimes. In nearly 40% of the 206 wrongful convictions overturned through DNA testing nationwide, DNA also helped identify the true perpetrators of crimes.
"Again and again in Louisiana and around the country, we have shown that DNA can exonerate the innocent while also helping identify and apprehend the guilty. In the interests of justice, public safety and confidence in the criminal justice system, the Baton Rouge District Attorney’s office should let this court ruling stand and start working to get the DNA testing done,” Scheck said. “Nobody – not Archie Williams and his family, nor the victim and her family and not the community at large – is served by continuing the unprecedented obstacles to DNA testing in this case."