News 02.12.10

Three Years Later, Rebuilding a Life in Georgia

Three years ago this week

Willie “Pete” Williams

was officially exonerated in Georgia after serving almost 22 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit.

DNA testing conducted in 2007 on evidence from the victim’s rape kit proved Williams’ innocence and implicated another man, who had pled guilty to similar rapes in the area. Williams was just 23 years old when he was convicted of the 1985 kidnapping and rape of an Atlanta woman and sentenced to 45 years in prison. His conviction – like those of all eight people exonerated through DNA in Georgia – was based in part on eyewitness misidentification. The Georgia Innocence Project took Williams’ case in 2005 and identified the evidence that would ultimately lead to his exoneration.

Since his release in 2007, Williams has rented his own apartment and bought his first car. He also began working as a painter and has been taking classes at an Atlanta technical college. In 2008, advocates on Williams’ behalf helped pass a compensation bill in the Georgia state legislature, which will pay Williams $1.2 million over the next 20 years. The state of Georgia currently has no standardized compensation statute. Instead, the state legislature has passed several individualized bills granting compensation on a case-by-case basis.

Find out more about exoneree compensation here

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The man whose DNA profiled allegedly matched the profile from the victim’s rape kit in Williams’ case remains free. He has previous convictions for rape, sodomy, kidnapping, robbery and aggravated assault and was charged with rape in this case after Williams’ exoneration. The case was initially set for trial, but the victim refused to testify and  Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said he did not want to force the victim to testify against her wishes.

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