The victim testified at Derrick Williams’ kidnapping and rape trial that her assailant pulled his gray T-shirt over her head to keep her from seeing his face. A few moments later, she managed to escape her attacker, driving away with the telltale T-shirt still in the car, says Miami Herald columnist Fred Grimm. The gray shirt, identified vaguely by Williams’ girlfriend as similar to one he owned, provided prosecutors with their only physical evidence in the 1993 trial that sent Williams to prison to serve two consecutive life sentences.
This week, tests of sweat stains and skin cells from inside the collar of the shirt excluded Williams “as the contributor of this biological material,” says the Innocence Project of Florida. Williams, 47, remains in prison. This month, after an embarrassing string of DNA exonerations, the state Supreme Court appointed an innocence commission to examine the procedural flaws that led to so many wrongful convictions in Florida. The case of Derrick Williams featured several recurring themes in those lousy cases. Other than the gray shirt, Williams’ prosecution relied on the victim’s identification. Seventy five percent of the nation’s DNA exonerations can be traced back to witness misidentification. A number of wrongful convictions were rooted in suggestive photo line-ups. In the Florida case, the original photo lineup included two photos of Williams. And once a bad ID is made, witnesses tend to become ever more adamant.