Why was Grant Williams' murder conviction overturned? Staten Island man spent 23 years in jail

Grant Williams was arrested and convicted in 1997 and sentenced to life in prison, where he spent 23 years — all for a crime he did not commit


                            Why was Grant Williams' murder conviction overturned? Staten Island man spent 23 years in jail
(Image used for representation: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A Staten Island man Grant Williams, 50, was cleared Thursday, July 22 after his murder conviction was overturned. Williams spent 23 years in jail. Supreme Court Justice Wayne Ozzi vacated his 1997 conviction on Thursday.

Judge Ozzi told Williams, "Nothing I can say can undo 25 years of that nightmare. I hope it is a bright future for you." Staten Island DA Michael McMahon apologized to Williams for the delayed justice and hugged him outside the courthouse. Williams noted that he doesn't hold a grudge. In a similar incident last year, Scott Peterson's death penalty was overturned and his murder convictions were ordered to be re-examined by the California Supreme Court. Peterson was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in the 2002 deaths of his wife Laci and their unborn son, Conner.

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Speaking of the overturned conviction, Williams said, "I used to tell everybody in prison, I'm innocent. 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."

"I just want to say to everybody, you never know how much strength you have until it’s tested. When you’re placed in a situation where you actually have to survive, that’s where your strength kicks in for me. I never lost strength. I never lost faith and I want to definitely commend the new DA that stepped in and made my life different and brought me here today because I would still be sitting in a cell right now. I am very happy to be here today but this is the day I dreamed about." He added, "I knew it was going to happen. I never gave up."

Why was Grant Williams arrested? 

According to reports, Williams was charged with shooting death of Shdell Lewis outside a Staten Island housing project on April 5, 1996, and was found guilty by a jury in November 1997. He was given 25 years of jail time. The case against Williams was based solely on the testimony of one witness and an NYPD cop. However, there were other witnesses who provided an alibi for Williams but reportedly, they were ignored.

According to reports, a 17-year-old witness at the Stapleton public housing complex told cops about half-hour after the shooting that the incident likely involved a turf war and a gangbanger nicknamed 'Boo Boo'. Apparently, Williams, who was then out on parole, was found to have the same nickname. The real shooter, who deceived the police was described as a bulky Black man about 5 feet 5, in total contrast to Williams, who is a 6-foot-2, light-skinned black man and 'very thin', prosecutors said. Williams was tracked down in Virginia and extradited to New York in October 1996, and his murder trial began in November 1997.

Williams’ lawyers uncovered additional evidence and witnesses, who reportedly said he was at a recording studio at the time of the shooting. The discovery prompted prosecutors to review the conviction. Williams was set out on parole in December 2019. Prosecutors said that Williams' is the first wrongful conviction case to be overturned on Staten Island. He was cleared by the DA’s Conviction Integrity Review Unit.

Staten Island DA McMahon said in a statement on Thursday, July 22: "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." 

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