In 1985, Pete, a 23-year old part-time painter, was a passenger in a car pulled over for a traffic violation when police noted that he resembled the composite sketch of a serial rapist in a nearby neighborhood. The officers included Pete in a line-up, and two victims and a witness identified Pete as the perpetrator. Based solely on faulty eyewitness identification, and despite arguments from Pete’s attorney about an alternate suspect, a jury convicted Pete, and the judge sentenced him to 45 years in prison.
A young man wrongfully incarcerated and nearly lost in the system, Pete existed on the thin hope that DNA evidence would prove his innocence.
The Georgia Innocence Project doggedly tracked down Pete’s DNA evidence. Pete was exonerated after spending 23 years in prison. The Georgia Innocence Project, as part of its mission, also helped coach Pete on life skills and connected him with resources he needed to rebuild his life.
In his words, “If it wasn’t for the Georgia Innocence Project, I would still be in prison. My lawyers gave me hope when there was no hope.”
Lawyers at the Georgia Innocence Project represent people like Pete Williams, who have been convicted of serious crimes that they did not commit. GIP attorneys focus primarily on cases where modern DNA testing was not available at the time of trial but could now prove innocence: re-investigating cases from scratch; locating evidence; securing DNA testing through the courts; and advocating for exoneration of innocent men and women. The three GIP lawyers are supported by a team of volunteer attorneys and law student interns.
GIP's Executive Director Clare Gilbert explains: “During his entire wrongful imprisonment, Pete steadfastly proclaimed his innocence to anyone who would listen. When he learned about GIP, he wrote to us (we still have the letter in a scrapbook we keep on each exoneree), and he was so earnest and compelling that GIP soon accepted his case.
Pete had been told all the biological evidence in his case was lost or destroyed. But with persistence, GIP located the first victim’s rape kit at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. A judge granted Pete’s motion for post-conviction DNA testing, and after spending 23 years in prison on a crime where the victim was 120% sure Pete was the perpetrator, the DNA test results not only proved that Pete was innocent, but also identified the serial rapist who had committed the crimes for which Pete was imprisoned.
There is nothing in the world more gratifying than to play a part in procuring a person’s freedom from wrongful conviction. As Pete himself said, ‘Being free—nothing can replace that. Freedom—it means everything.’ Our mission at the Georgia Innocence Project is to help give voice to the imprisoned innocent and help them fight for their freedom.” Learn more about the Georgia Innocence Project.