Vincent Simmons spent 44 years in prison. On Feb. 14, a Louisiana judge ruled he never received a fair trial. Simmons walked out of Angola State Penitentiary a free man — something he said he dreamed of for decades.
Louisiana Judge Bill Bennett ruled that Simmons did not get a fair trial in 1977 when he was convicted of attempted aggravated rape of twin 14-year-old sisters. Simmons, who was 25 at the time, was sentenced to 100 years in prison after being convicted by a jury of 11 white men and one Black woman.
Judge Bennett came to his decision after recently examining information that was available in 1977 but not presented at Simmons’s trial. Simmons and his attorneys believed the information might have prevented his conviction.
Bennett ordered a new trial but Avoyelles Parish District Attorney Charles Riddle then told the court that he would not retry Simmons and dropped the charges.
African Americans represent 13 percent of the U.S. population but are a majority of the innocent defendants wrongfully convicted of crimes and later exonerated. Black people constitute 47 percent of the 1,900 exonerations listed in the National Registry of Exonerations as of October 2016. They are also the great majority of more than 1,800 more innocent defendants who were framed and convicted of crimes in 15 large-scale police scandals and later cleared in “group exonerations.”
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Twin sisters Sharon and Karen Sanders, now 59 years old, were also at the courthouse during the ruling. They maintained that it was Simmons who assaulted them.
Two weeks after the alleged rape, the sisters reluctantly relayed some details to the sheriff. They claimed that a Black man forcibly took them to a country road and sexually assaulted them for three hours in a car belonging to their 18-year-old cousin Keith Laborde, who they say was locked in the trunk, CBS News reported.
According to Sharon, their torturer “gave us his name” and they called him Simmons all night.
But the sisters never gave the sheriff the name when they were questioned. They described only his race and did not provide details of the man’s appearance.
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The sisters admitted they told the sheriff that “all ‘N-word’ look alike.”
Simmons, however, has always maintained his innocence. He fought to clear his name for decades and tried at least 16 times to get a new trial.
“No, I am not mad at them. I mean that. When I told them I forgive them that’s what I mean … forgiveness,” Simmons told CBS News, referring to his accusers.
Simmons said he plans to leave Louisiana, which he says was not fair to him. He also said he would work to help other inmates seeking their freedom.
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