Oakland man’s rape conviction tossed
Posted by Steven Fabian, Sonoma County Criminal Defense Lawyer
An Oakland man who spent 14 years behind bars for the rape of a 9-year-old girl has been exonerated after prosecutors conceded that new DNA evidence cleared him of the crime.
It was the second time in three weeks that a defendant who was prosecuted in Alameda County and served a lengthy prison term was cleared after his case was taken up by attorneys for the Northern California Innocence Project, which works to clear prisoners it believes were wrongly convicted.
In February, 51-year-old Ronald Ross was freed after nearly seven years behind bars, wrongly convicted of a 2006 shooting in West Oakland. On Friday, prosecutors again conceded they had imprisoned the wrong person when they told a judge the 2000 rape conviction of Johnny Williams, 37, should not stand.
Williams, who was paroled from state prison in January, was not ready to comment Monday, his attorneys said.
But in a handwritten letter to Superior Court Judge Larry Goodman, Williams described himself as blessed and said he had learned in prison that “life is truly precious.”
“We need peace,” Williams wrote. “This little girl, just as me, too. … We are both victims of this very serious crime and we both need the person who committed this crime to be brought and placed into prison.”
Goodman voided Williams’ conviction Friday.
The case began in September 1998 when a 9-year-old girl reported she was sexually assaulted on two consecutive days as she walked to her East Oakland school.
According to court records, the girl told her mother her attacker was a stranger, but also said the man referred to himself as “Johnny.”
The victim’s mother told Oakland investigators about a former neighbor and family friend named Johnny, which led them to Williams, who was 23 at the time. He was arrested one week after the girl picked him out of a photo lineup, and she also testified at the trial that Williams had attacked her.
At the time, prosecutors said lab tests on the girl’s clothing “found nothing.”
But after attorneys working with the Northern California Innocence Project and a group that reviews convictions that could be overturned with DNA evidence, the California DNA Project, took up Williams’ case in 2007, the girl’s clothing was retested for biological evidence.
This time, Oakland police lab technicians found the presence of sperm on the T-shirt, but said the sample “conclusively excludes” Williams.
Catherine Kobal, an Alameda County deputy district attorney, said in a statement that prosecutors had concluded that Williams was not guilty.
“After extensive review of the case, the trial, and the new evidence, the people agree that the DNA results undermine the prosecution’s case and point unerringly toward Mr. Williams’ innocence,” Kobal said.
The prosecutor said the victim was upset by news of the ruling.
In his letter to the judge, Williams said he hoped Oakland police would reopen their investigation. A Police Department spokesman said Monday that authorities had just learned of the ruling and had not yet reviewed the case.
“I have nothing but love and respect for the family,” Williams wrote, “and I hope they will see in the future that I am not the person who did this.”