Johnny Williams was exonerated in 2013 after serving 14 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. DNA testing requested by NCIP showed that Williams was not the perpetrator of the sexual assault for which he was wrongfully convicted.
On September 28, 1998, a man calling himself “Johnny” sexually accosted a nine-year-old girl as she walked home from school. The next day, in the same area, the same man attempted to rape her. Williams was a former neighbor of the victim’s mother and familiar with the victim and her family. In the victim’s initial report of the assault, she said she did not know the attacker. However, individuals close to the victim suggested to the police that “Johnny” might be Williams.
On September 30, police showed the victim a photographic lineup, and she selected Williams’ photograph. By that time, the victim knew that her mother believed Williams was the attacker and had heard her mother refer to him by name. The photographic lineup was also shown to the girl’s teenage relative who had seen the perpetrator on September 28, but the relative was unable to identify anyone. Police collected the t-shirt that the victim said she had been wearing during the attempted rape and had used to wipe the semen from the attacker.
After Williams’ photograph was selected by the victim, Williams was arrested on outstanding traffic warrants and subjected to a lengthy interrogation. Over the course of that interrogation, he denied more than 45 times committing any sexual assault. But after police claimed to have dozens of witnesses, a security video, and DNA evidence showing that he did it, Williams declared in frustration, “I did it. I did everything.” When pressed further, he immediately returned to denying any involvement. Detectives also repeatedly told Williams during the interrogation that they were not trying to prosecute him, but to get him help for a sexual problem.
At trial, forensic tests were unable to confirm the presence of biological evidence, and no DNA testing was performed. Prosecutors played portions of the recorded interrogation including Williams’ statement. On June 8, 2000, Williams was convicted of two counts of forcible lewd conduct against a child and one count of attempted rape.
In 2012, NCIP re-tested the victim’s t-shirt and found enough biological material to yield a mixture of male DNA that conclusively excluded Williams as the perpetrator. In March 2013, the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office conceded that Williams was innocent, and the Alameda County Superior Court overturned the conviction. Williams received $461,600 in compensation from the State of California in 2014.