Judge Throws Out Conviction of Man Imprisoned for 20 Years - Since the Age of 14

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Anthony Williams then, Anthony Williams now.
  • Anthony Williams then, Anthony Williams now.

A man locked up in prison for 20 years - since he was 14 years old - was ordered to be released after a judge found that prosecutors hid evidence that could have acquitted the child, who is now 34. The prosecutors in that case have since led successful careers and currently face no charges.

Anthony Williams was convicted of fatally shooting 14-year-old Cortez Andrews in the head outside a dance hall on Dec. 31, 1993. Williams, who was the same age as the victim, was tried as an adult for the murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Over the past two decades, Williams' multiple appeals were denied. But last week, Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green found that the conviction was so flawed that Williams must either be released or get a new trial. Among those findings, according to the Post-Dispatch:

"...prosecutors did not provide Williams' previous lawyers with evidence that could have helped him, including three witness statements that contradicted the accounts of state witnesses who identified Williams as the shooter; police dispatch and 911 emergency tapes; and statements by Andrews' identical twin, Courtney, at the crime scene naming another assailant."

"The government's failure to disclose this evidence undermines this court's confidence in the jury's verdict," Judge Green wrote. "Anthony might not be in prison today had the government abided by its duty to disclose all of this information to the defense more than two decades ago."

See also: Darryl Burton: Wrongfully Convicted Ex-Prisoner Sues St. Louis, Police Board

Jennifer Bukowsky, the attorney handling Williams' current appeal, tells the Associated Press that she initially began working on Williams' case to reduce his sentence after a 2012 Supreme Court ruling that deemed it unconstitutional for minors to receive automatic life sentences. But after looking into the case, she became convinced of Williams' innocence.

"I can't even put into words how much it means to me to correct this manifest injustice," Bukowsky says. "This is a person who would have languished for another 40 years and have likely died in prison." See also: Man Sues Police for Imprisoning Him for the Wrong Crime. Twice.

Since the faulty conviction, the prosecutors in the case - Hope Whitehead and Barbara Peebles - have had successful legal careers. Whitehead, who is now in private practice, became a Democratic state representative in 2010. She replaced state rep. Talibdin El-Amin, who resigned from the House after being convicted of taking a bribe. Whitehead's political career would be cut short when she lost her 2012 re-election bid.

Click on the next page to read about how Peebles had clerks hear her cases while she was on vacation in China...

Peebles has had a more checkered past since the 1994 trial. Currently an associate circuit judge, Peebles took a vacation to China in 2011 but didn't take any vacation time. Instead, she had clerks take on about 350 cases - "dismissing five, refusing to dismiss at least one and deciding that as many as 18 arrest warrants should be issued" - according to a P-D investigation.

The the Missouri Commission on Retirement, Removal and Discipline voted to remove her from the bench after it found she talked to a reporter about a case in progress and destroyed court documents. Peebles was suspended without pay for 6 months - her annual salary was $109, 366.

But Peebles today remains on the bench and hears civil and small claims cases.

In a statement to the P-D, Whitehead says she and her colleagues played by the rules.

"I do not know why the judge reached the conclusion that he did," she says.

Williams, who remains in prison, is waiting to hear from Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce about whether the state will retry his case. See also: A federal appeals court says Darryl Burton might very well be innocent of the 1984 murder of Donald Ball. But there's nothing they can do about it.

Although no current charges have been filed against Whitehead or Peebles, it's not unheard of for prosecutors to face the justice system after corrupting it for others -- but not really.

Last year, Texas prosecutor Ken Anderson faced felony charges for tampering with evidence during a 1987 murder case that resulted in a man being wrongly convicted of murdering his wife. The wrongly convicted man ended up serving 25 years in prison until DNA evidence exonerated him last year. Anderson was sentenced to 10 days in jail for the tampering charges.

And he was released after 5 days for good behavior.

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E-mail him at Ray.Downs@RiverfrontTimes.com.

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