We have told you before about Derrick Williams’ case. On March 15-16, we had an evidentiary hearing in Bradenton, Florida where we were able to present our DNA evidence to the judge, and all of our evidence regarding the State’s unlawful destruction of evidence in Derrick’s case, as well as 3,600 other cases. At the hearing, IPF attorneys Melissa Montle and Michael Minerva (who did an absolutely superb job) put on Dr. Julie Heinig, a DNA expert from DNA Diagnostics Center, Dr. Jennifer Dysart, an eyewitness identification expert from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and almost a dozen current and former members of the Manatee County Sheriff’s office.
Around 10 AM yesterday, we received an order from the judge on our fax machine, which vacated Derrick Williams’ 1993 convictions of sexual battery, kidnapping, and related offenses. In the twenty-two page order by Manatee County Circuit Judge Marc B. Gilner issued March 28, 2011, the court agreed with the IPF’s contentions that newly discovered DNA evidence undermined confidence in the previous guilty verdicts, which were largely based on challenged eyewitness identification. The recently conducted DNA test on the shirt worn and abandoned by the true perpetrator excluded Williams as a contributor to DNA found on the shirt, which made it “highly likely that [Williams] did not wear the shirt,” the order found.
The court also found that the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office violated Williams’ due process rights when it unlawfully destroyed evidence in 2003 that could have conclusively excluded him as the perpetrator. Specifically, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office destroyed, en masse, 3,600 cases worth of evidence, which included key evidence in the Williams case. Lost in the destruction was a hair taken from the perpetrator’s t-shirt after the crime that was conclusively determined in 1993 to come from someone other than Derrick Williams. State law in effect at that time required law enforcement officials to maintain physical evidence that might contain DNA for post-conviction testing, such as this evidence in Williams’ case.
This is just wonderful news for Derrick and his family. Because the ruling grants Derrick a new trial on all charges, there are three possible conclusions.
- The State could simply see the writing on the wall and drop the charges. This would make Derrick a free man and reunite him with his family. We have been and will continue to urge this morally correct option, especially given the judge’s finding that the jury would have acquitted had it known about the new DNA results.
- The State could retry Derrick. This would be difficult, again, given the judges ruling and the fact that we demonstrated at the hearing that the victim’s likely misidentified Derrick and that a Sheriff’s deputy was dishonest in sworn trial testimony in providing evidence of opportunity for Derrick to have committed this crime in order to rebut his alibi evidence at trial. If they decide to retry, the judge ruled that, because of the unlawful destruction of evidence, Derrick is entitled to a favorable jury instruction related to that destruction of evidence.
- The State could appeal. This would be the most cynical move, as it would not be likely to succeed, but would have the likely effect of keeping Derrick in jail until the appellate court disposes of the appeal (which could take months).
Here is a link to the order and here are some links news articles about the order today:
- Palmetto Man’s Rape Conviction Overturned with DNA Evidence (Bradenton Herald)
- DNA Help’s Overturn Palmetto Man’s Rape Conviction (Sarasota Herald Tribune)
- New Trial Granted for Man Convicted of Rape in 1993 (BayNews9)
- Judge Overturns Palmetto Man’s Rape Conviction (Miami Herald)
Keep your fingers crossed and we will update you as soon as we know what is going on. Thanks for all of your support.