HICKORY, N.C. - After spending nearly 25 years in prison for rape, a local man is fighting to clear his name and the conviction from his record.
Willie Grimes’ case is now before a three-judge panel that could exonerate him for a crime he said he didn't commit.
“I feel good,” Grimes said.
With his attorney at his side, Grimes appeared confident his name would be cleared for the 1987 rape. He has maintained his innocence since his arrest and during the nearly 25 years he spent in prison.
He said he prayed Monday before going to court.
“That everything goes right,” Grimes said. “I'm just leaving it in Jehovah's hands.”
Court documents show Grimes had as many as eight alibi witnesses who placed him nowhere near where the rape happened.
In 2011, the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence said it discovered fingerprints lifted from the original crime scene match those of Albert Turner. Turner is in jail after being arrested last week in connection with a rape case from the 1970s. The fingerprints were shown to the three-judge panel that will decide if Grimes' conviction should be overturned.
“All of this evidence points to Albert Turner and not Willie Grimes,” Grimes’ attorney, Robert Campbell, said. “We urge you to find that Willie Grimes, after a quarter of a century, is innocent.”
But prosecutors argued the fingerprints are not enough to clear the 66-year-old. They want the three judges to make the final decision on his guilt or innocence.
"For me, I'd like to see compelling physical evidence or the unavailability of the defendant at that time, like in jail or out of the country, or the guilt of a third party beyond any doubt, and we just don't have that,” said District Attorney Jay Gaither.
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