DNA Testing Demonstrates Derrick Williams is Innocent:
Williams has Served Over 17 Years for a Rape he Did Not Commit; Attorneys Call for Immediate Release
Bradenton, Florida—On Monday, July 26, 2010, DNA Diagnostics Center, a nationally recognized forensic laboratory in Fairfield, Ohio, issued a report in the case of State of Florida v. Derrick Williams, which demonstrates Williams’ actual innocence of an August 1993 kidnapping and rape in Palmetto, Manatee County, Florida.
Upon an agreement by Williams’ attorneys at the Innocence Project of Florida and the State Attorney, the court ordered DNA testing on the t-shirt worn by the assailant before the rape and left in the victim’s car at the end of the crime. The testing excludes Derrick Williams as the donor of the DNA on the inside of the collar of the assailant’s t-shirt, confirming that someone other than Williams raped the victim and left the t-shirt in her car. “After over 17 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, the State should do the right thing and release this innocent man immediately,” said Williams’ attorney, Melissa Montle, staff attorney for the Innocence Project of Florida (IPF).
At Williams’ trial, the State made the assailant’s t-shirt the central piece of physical evidence against Williams, even though there was an indication even before trial that the shirt may have belonged to someone else. Before trial, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement determined that a “Negroid” hair found on the t-shirt could not have come from Williams. Williams was convicted when the jury failed to believe that scientific evidence or his unrefuted alibi evidence given by six different witnesses (he was at a family barbeque); instead relying on the inconsistent and contradictory eyewitness identification by the victim. “Today’s DNA results demonstrate conclusively that the victim was mistaken about who raped her and that Derrick is innocent,” said Montle.
According to the Innocence Project of Florida, witness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions, contributing to 75% of the 255 wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing nationwide.
Other important physical evidence, including the victim’s rape kit and the foreign “Negroid” hair from the assailant’s t-shirt, were improperly stored and unlawfully incinerated by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office (MSO) in late 2003. Internal MSO memos indicate that, as early as 1996, leadership at MSO was made aware of poor climate control and mold issues in one of its storage facilities. Yet it never made any effort to move the evidence, examine it, or determine whether any pieces of evidence were salvageable. Instead, the evidence in the case of Derrick Williams and nearly 4,000 other criminal cases was summarily destroyed by mass incineration.
MSO denied the evidence damage and destruction to the press. It never informed defendants or defense attorneys in these cases about the destruction. The mass destruction was only revealed through the vigorous eighteen-month investigation of the Williams case by the Innocence Project of Florida. “The State simply threw away important evidence in Derrick William’s case and in thousands of other cases, and then pretended like it never happened. We now know that Derrick is innocent. How many others will never get the chance to prove their innocence because of this debacle?” said Seth Miller, executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida.
For his part, Derrick Williams has been a model citizen in the Florida prison system. During his wrongful incarceration, he earned a GED and was an inmate supervisor for Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises (PRIDE) refurbishing Department of Corrections vehicles and fire trucks for first responders nationwide. When informed of the results, Williams said, “It makes me extremely happy that it’s finally coming to an end. The results prove what I have said all along—I am innocent.”
The Innocence Project of Florida (IPF) is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to finding and freeing innocent people in Florida prisons. IPF represents Derrick Williams for free, including all costs associated with DNA testing and litigation. IPF’s website is www.FloridaInnocence.org.