Simon Cowell is joining the fight to free wrongly jailed prisoners, thanks to the amazing voice of one man who spent decades behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit.
The “America’s Got Talent” judge has signed up as an ambassador for the Innocence Project, after hearing Archie Williams, who languished in prison for 37 years on false charges, give an incredible performance on the show.
“While Archie’s voice is extraordinary, unfortunately his experience of being sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit is much more common than most people realize,” Cowell said in a statement Tuesday.
The Louisiana man gave a stunning performance of Elton John’s “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” and told the judges he often watched the show while in prison.
“I would visualize myself being there. I always desired to be on a stage like this,” he said after his performance.
Williams said that he was only 22 when he was arrested in 1983, for the rape and stabbing of a 30 year old white woman. It would be 37 years before he was freed thanks to new evidence and the work of the Innocence Project.
“I couldn’t believe it was really happening. I knew I was innocent,” he said.
“I didn’t commit a crime,” he added. “But being a poor black kid, I didn’t have the economic ability to fight the state of Louisiana. At the trial, none of the fingerprints at the scene matched mine. Three people testified that I was at home, but they wanted somebody to pay. I was sentenced to life and 80 years without the possibility of parole or probation.”
Williams, now 59, described the experience as “a nightmare” and said he turned to music and prayer to get through the dark times.
When host Terry Crews asked Williams how he was able to survive, the singer responded, “Freedom is of the mind. I went to prison, but I never let my mind go to prison.”
Williams was freed in 2019, when new evidence linked another person to the crime, prompting a new trial and his release, according to the Innocence Project.
In 1995, 12 years into his sentence, Williams wrote to Innocence Project Co-Founder Barry Scheck asking him for legal assistance. “As the years go by I sit here year after year, it’s like no one cares,” Williams wrote. “By the Grace of God I’m still holding on hoping and praying in faith that someone will answer my letter and help me.”
From that point on until 2019, Scheck and a team of Innocence Project attorneys, including Director of Post Conviction Litigation Vanessa Potkin — who was assigned the case when she joined the organization in 2000 — tried every avenue to prove Williams’ innocence.
The Innocence Project New Orleans joined the legal team later in the case. For 20 years the State blocked access to evidence that could prove his innocence.
Finally, on March 21, 2019, Commissioner Kinasiyumki Kimble of the 19th Judicial District Court of East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, vacated Williams’ rape and attempted murder conviction.
The Commissioner made her decision after new fingerprint evidence, which excluded Williams, was matched through the national fingerprint database to Stephen Forbes, a man who had also committed a string of sexual assaults.
“Archie’s performance is probably the single most important one in the history of ‘America’s Got Talent.’ What happened to Archie is tragic,” Cowell said.
“There are thousands of innocent people in jails and prisons. I’m honoured to become an Ambassador for the Innocence Project and want to do what I can to help more people like Archie.”
Barry Scheck added: “As you can see from the audition, Simon’s reaction to Archie and his story was immediate, powerful, and personal. He is committed to advancing the work of the Innocence Project.”
Cowell will join a string of big names who have been made ambassadors for the organization, including Busta Rhymes, Niecy Nash and Ryan Phillippe.
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