NEWTON, N.C. - A panel of judges agreed on Friday that a man who spent nearly 25 years in prison for rape should have never been there.
After four days of testimony, the judges came back in about five minutes on Friday morning and said that Willie Grimes was exonerated for a 1987 rape and kidnapping.
The courtroom erupted after one of the judges announced the decision.
Grimes spent years in prison after a jury convicted him of the rape and kidnapping of a 69-year-old woman in Hickory.
Family members of the victim were some of the first people to talk with Grimes. Tamra Elliott and Teresa Hamlet, granddaughters of the victim, said they didn't know a lot of the evidence that came out this week.
"These are things we didn't know,” Elliott said.
"The police officers didn't do their job,” Hamlet said. “That's what got the ball rolling the wrong way.”
"They didn't talk to any of his witnesses like they should have,” Elliott said.
Grimes had as many as eight alibi witnesses who placed him somewhere else the night of the attack, but police never interviewed them. The North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence said it also discovered fingerprint evidence last year that was linked to Albert Turner. He is currently in jail after being charged in another rape last week.
The district attorney spoke before the judges' decision on Friday.
“On behalf of the district attorney of North Carolina, I want to offer an apology to Willie Grimes,” Jay Gaither said.
The D.A.'s office did ask the State Bureau of Investigation to consider possible perjury charges against witness Linda McDowell regarding her testimony.
McDowell received $1,000 reward after fingering Grimes as a possible suspect days after the crime.
Eyewitness News asked Grimes, who was surrounded by family and friends, if he was angry about the investigation that put him in prison for more than two decades.
“No, I'm not mad at them,” Grimes said. “They did their job, which they thought they were doing.”
But Grimes' sister believes more should have been done by police.
“If they had done a good job, this problem would never have had to come by,” Gladys Perkins said.
Grimes said he also feels sorry for the victim’s family because they did not get justice for the rape.