The Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) and the California DNA Project (CDP) at Santa Clara University School of Law announced that on March 8, the Alameda County Superior Court overturned the wrongful conviction of Johnny Williams for sex crimes after new DNA evidence proved his innocence. Mr. Williams served 14 years in prison.
“We are thrilled the state has recognized Johnny’s innocence and cleared his name,” said Linda Starr, NCIP’s legal director.
“Additionally, we are grateful to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office for their cooperation. Of the 303 innocent people exonerated by post-conviction DNA testing, nearly 75 percent involved eyewitness misidentification. Thus, in cases relying almost exclusively on eyewitnesses, we’ve learned that DNA evidence is the only way to conclusively prove innocence.”
On Sept. 28, 1998, a man who called himself “Johnny” sexually accosted a 9-year-old girl as she walked home from school. The next day, while walking in the same area, the same man attempted to rape her. Mr. Williams was a former neighbor of the victim and familiar with her family. When the victim first reported the assault she did not say she knew the attacker, thus suggesting a stranger. However, individuals close to the victim suggested to police that “Johnny” may be Mr. Williams. One week after the attack the Oakland Police Department collected the clothes the victim was wearing during the assault. Forensic tests at the time of trial were unable to confirm biological evidence and no DNA testing was performed. On June 8, 2000, Mr. Williams was convicted of two counts of forcible lewd conduct against a child and one count of attempted rape.
In 2012, NCIP, with the assistance of CDP, retested the victim’s t-shirt and found enough biological material to yield a complete male DNA profile that conclusively excluded Mr. Williams as the perpetrator.
“To be convicted of such a terrible crime and spend 14 years in prison, labeled a sex offender, is a nightmare most people could never imagine,” said Melissa Dague O’Connell, Mr. Williams’ lead attorney with CDP. “Without DNA evidence, we would not have been able to prove his innocence.”
Mr. Williams’ exoneration was made possible by a grant which created CDP and paid for the costs of retesting. However, that funding will expire in September.
“Something terrible happened to that little girl and I hope they find the person who did it. I am thankful people finally know the truth about me so that I can rebuild my life,” Mr. Williams said after the ruling.
This is the second innocent person NCIP has exonerated in 2013, and its 16th victory since its creation in 2001.