On Wednesday, February 24, two of Innocence Project of Florida’s (IPF) very own exonerated clients spoke to students at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee (USFSM) campus about their wrongful conviction experiences. The panel was hosted by USFSM, IPF, and the Evelyn M. Duvall Family Studies Initiative. Exonerees James Bain and Derrick Williams presented during the panel, among others.
On the night of March 4, 1974, a nine-year-old boy was taken from his home, brought to a nearby baseball field, and raped. When the boy returned home following the rape, he was wearing only a t-shirt and underwear. Upon describing his assailant and that he identified himself as Jimmy, the victim’s uncle implicated 19-year-old James Bain, who went by Jimmy at the time. Bain was a student at the high school where the uncle served as assistant principle. The victim then identified Jimmy Bain as his attacker to the police form a photo lineup containing a school photo of Bain. Despite having an alibi and the lack of confession, Bain was arrested for the crime.
A full description of the crime and Bain’s trial can be accessed here.
Despite all the testimony presented by the defense, Bain was convicted of rape, breaking and entering, and kidnapping and handed a life sentence.
While serving time, he filed four motions for DNA testing, all of which were denied. His fifth motion was originally denied, but an appeals court overturned the denial. Bain’s case was then accepted by IPF, with Bob Young, General Counsel for the 10th Judicial Circuit Public Defender, serving as co-counsel. Bain’s motion for DNA testing was finally accepted, and victim’s underwear were sent to a private laboratory in Ohio for testing. Results concluded that Bain was excluded from having left the semen in the victim’s underwear, proving that someone else was the victim’s attacker.
Bain was declared actually innocent and released from prison on December 17, 2009. Having been arrested when he was only 19-years-old, Bain was 54 when he was finally released from prison. He spent 35 years in prison for the crimes he did not commit, one of the longest sentences served by a DNA exoneree nationwide.
On August 6, 1992 at 5:30 PM, a woman arrived at her home where she saw a black male on her porch holding a white cloth. After a physical altercation, the man drove both of them to a nearby orange grove. After vaginally and orally raping the victim, the assailant tied her up and then exited the vehicle to smoke one of the victim’s cigarettes. During that time, she managed to untie herself and she drove away with her attacker’s cloth and shirt still in the vehicle, leaving him in the orange grove.
Originally, the victim described her assailant as standing 5’6” to 5’8” tall, with a scar near his stomach. Derrick Williams was 5’11” with a scar on the center of his back. The victim also stated that she did not get a good look at the attacker, nor did she look at his back. During a photo lineup, the victim was shown 33 photos, two of which were photos of Williams. Noticing the occurrence of these two photos, the victim identified Williams as her attacker.
Williams was convicted of kidnapping, sexual battery, robbery, grand theft motor vehicle, and battery and received to consecutive life sentences.
A full description of the crime and Williams’ trial can be accessed here.
IPF accepted Williams’ case after his sister-in-law wrote to the organization in August of 2006 seeking help for her relative. A full description of Williams’s case and IPF’s post-conviction representation of Williams can also be viewed in the link above.
Williams was exonerated and released from prison on April 4, 2011 after spending 18 years in prison for crimes he did not commit.
Bain received $1.7 million from the state of Florida in compensation for his wrongful conviction, while Williams has yet to receive any.
Both exonerees discussed their wrongful incarceration struggles. Bain told listeners:
“I tried and tried, ladies and gentlemens, to get my case heard. But each time, it was a failure. Each time.”
Williams also lamented his time in prison:
“I cried many days, many days about ‘Why this happened to me? Why this happened to me?’ But there’s only one person you got to ask that question to.”
Pointing upwards, Williams went on to explain how he got through his struggles:
“God, what’s going on in my life? When God do open doors for you, you make the best of it…. There come a time in life when things happen to you. You don’t look at the bad, you look at what’s bringing you forward.”
Along with Bain and Williams, the panel also included presentations about their own perspectives from Robert Cromwell, a retired FBI agent and president of IPF’s board of directors, Larry Eger, a public defender for the 12th Judicial Circuit, and Harriet Hendel, a retired educator and an IPF board member.
Cromwell also explained to listeners that eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful conviction and that eyewitnesses are not reliable, especially if they are of a different race than the person they saw committing a crime. He also commented on the criminal justice system, stating that:
“Something that I learned through my career that I didn’t necessarily know when I was a criminal justice student is this not a level playing field that we’re working with. The criminal justice system is not a level playing field. I saw it as a cop, I saw it as a NCIS agent, I saw it as a FBI agent. A lot of things need to change and there are a lot of things that could be done better.”