Associated Press

Mar. 07, 2006

Man freed from prison on excluded evidence

Cedric Willis, 29, of Jackson was freed today after spending 12 years locked up for a crime he didn't commit, a judge ruled.

Hinds County Circuit Judge Tomie T. Green dismissed murder and armed robbery charges against Willis after District Attorney Faye Peterson made the motion.

"No one wants an innocent person in prison," Green said.

The New Orleans chapter of the Innocence Project, a national, nonprofit legal-aid clinic organization that has exonerated five wrongfully convicted Louisiana inmates, was instrumental in reopening Willis' case.

Willis was charged in 1994 and convicted in 1997 of shooting Carl White Jr. and robbing White's wife, Gloria, and daughter, Jamilla, at their home at 3570 Michael Clay Drive.

White died six days later. Willis was sentenced to life in prison.

When the Innocence Project took on Willis’ case in May 2005, Emily Maw of the New Orleans Innocence Project said jurors never heard evidence that the gun used in the homicide and robbery also had been used in four cases, including an armed robbery and rape.

Willis also was indicted on the armed robbery and rape charges. A DNA test excluded him in the rape, Maw said.

Prosecutors dropped the rape and armed robbery charges, but jurors never heard that those charges were dropped, Maw said.

“This struck us as particularly unfair,” she said.

That excluded evidence could have given jurors reason to doubt Willis’ guilt, Maw said.

The New Orleans Innocence Project has exonerated five wrongfully convicted Louisiana inmates. The national Innocence Project, founded in 1992 at a New York City law school, has exonerated 158 inmates.


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