A New York City man who spent 23 years in prison after being sentenced in a 1997 murder case has had his conviction tossed out following a review that determined he was innocent and the “justice system failed him,” a district attorney says.
Grant Williams, a 50-year-old who was paroled in 2019, appeared before a judge in Staten Island Supreme Court Thursday as Richmond County District Attorney Michael McMahon consented to have his second-degree murder conviction in the killing of Shdell Lewis vacated. Lewis was gunned down out outside of a public housing facility in Staten Island in April 1996, and to this day the shooter has not been found, the Attorney’s Office tells Fox News.
“I used to tell everybody in prison, I’m innocent,” Williams told supporters and media Thursday who had gathered outside the courthouse. “And they said, ‘Ahhh Williams, everybody says that.’ I said I’m telling you the truth. One day you’re going to see me on the news, and you’re going to see that I was innocent. And today is that day.”
Grant Williams speaks Thursday after having his conviction overturned.
In a statement to Fox News, McMahon’s office said the reinvestigation of Williams’ conviction “uncovered exculpatory evidence about the case, including numerous credible witnesses who gave testimony to the innocence of Mr. Williams.”
“A reinvestigation of this case by my office’s Conviction Integrity Review Unit uncovered new evidence showing Mr. Grant Williams could not have committed the murder a Staten Island jury convicted him of carrying out in 1997,” McMahon said in the statement. “Given the overwhelming amount of exculpatory evidence presented for the first time in this review, as well as a totality of the investigative circumstances in this case, which in several instances defy what we now accept as best practices, we now believe Mr. Williams to actually be innocent and conclude that our justice system failed him.”
The attorney’s office says the review was launched after Williams’ lawyer, Irving Cohen, approached prosecutors in 2017 “and presented new information he had discovered that cast doubt on the identification of Williams as the shooter, including at least a dozen witnesses who gave affidavits attesting to the innocence of Mr. Williams.”
“These new interviews were especially significant considering that at the time of the incident there was initially only one independent eyewitness who identified Williams as the shooter,” their statement continued. “RCDA made the decision to launch a full review of the case after further preliminary investigation showed no other evidence existed to implicate Mr. Williams in this murder – no confession, DNA or fingerprints, video recordings or cell phone evidence connecting the defendant to the crime, or any other forensic or independent corroboration of witness identification.”
On the night Lewis was killed, he was walking with a family friend when “a black male, wearing a black jacket and a baseball hat, approached them,” McMahon’s office says. “As he walked past them on the walkway he turned and began firing a gun at Lewis, striking him several times in the back and torso.
“Lewis attempted to run across the street but succumbed to his injuries and fell to the ground,” it added. “He was removed from the scene in an ambulance and later died at the hospital, suffering multiple gunshot wounds to his body.”
Cohen says he is now planning to file two lawsuits seeking monetary damages in the wake of Williams’ conviction being overturned, according to WABC.