Nothing can ever make up for what happened to Archie Williams, but his America’s Got Talent audition will hopefully shed more light on his story and the fact that there are likely other men and women like him out there. In his audition clip, which Simon Cowell shared on his Twitter account in May 2020 ahead of the upcoming season, Williams told his story before going into a moving rendition of Elton John’s “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me.”
Williams explained that he had spent the past 37 years at the Louisiana State Penitentiary before being released in March 2019, with the help of the Innocence Project. Williams was incarcerated for “someone else’s crime” as he explains to the judges — on the morning of Dec. 9, 1982, a 30-year-old white woman was raped and stabbed at her house. Williams was arrested less than a month later on Jan. 4, 1983, per Today.
He added, “I didn’t commit a crime. 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.”
DNA set Archie Williams free
Per NPR, Archie Williams’ case was convicted of a crime he didn’t commit based on a false ID. His lawyer, Vanessa Potkin of the Innocence Project, told the outlet, “He was just walking down the street one day when the police snatched him up, and ended up putting his photograph in a photo array that was viewed by a woman who had been attacked in her home.” The woman didn’t identify Williams at first, but after being shown the photo two more times, she told the police it was him. He was convicted for rape and attempted murder and sent to Angola, which is the nickname for Louisiana State Penitentiary, at the young age of 22.
Williams reached out to the Innocence Project just 12 years into his sentence, and Potkin realized that forensic evidence could help him, but they were blocked from getting it for two decades. It wasn’t until Commissioner Kina Kimble took the bench in 2018 that they were able to help Williams. Potkin said, “She ordered that the fingerprints be searched in the FBI database; she said, you know, we’re gonna get to the truth here. And within eight hours, those prints were matched to a serial assailant, and Archie’s innocence was proven.” So after all those decades sitting in prison, it just took one working day to free Williams, which is pretty galling.
Archie Williams is working on his next chapter
Archie Williams, now 59 years old, spent 37 years in prison for something he didn’t do, and as it turns out, America’s Got Talent played a little part in how he kept his head up in jail all of those years. Williams told the judges before his audition that he turned to music in prison and even managed to watch the music competition show.
Per Today, the singer told judge Terry Crews that he was able to survive the unjust situation by remembering that “freedom is of the mind.” Williams added, “I went to prison, but I never let my mind go to prison.” Simon Cowell tweeted in praise of Williams. “I will never forget this audition for the rest of my life. And I’ll never listen to this song in the same way ever again,” he wrote.
Williams also formed a band in prison, and after he was released, he performed Stevie Wonder’s “As” at the iconic Amateur Night competition at New York’s Apollo Theater in November 2019, per the New York Times. Although Williams was robbed of decades of his life, it looks like music will be at the center of this new, well-earned chapter for him.
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