A Hickory man serving a life sentence for a rape he said he did not commit learned Wednesday afternoon his conviction will get a second look by a judicial review.
This week, the Innocence Inquiry Commission has been reviewing Willie Grimes’ case in Raleigh. The 65-year-old told the panel Tuesday that he had no idea why police arrested him in 1987 for the rape of a 69-year-old woman.
“I know I wasn’t into no crime that night. You know, it bugged me for years. It almost drove me crazy when I first went to prison. Eventually, I got over it and saw that I wasn’t going to get no help,” Grimes said.
There were several factors that brought Grimes’ case in front of the panel. A state police investigator testified that fingerprints on evidence matched another man with a lengthy criminal record.
Another issue in the case is the victim’s identification of Grimes. She initially identified him in a photo lineup, but later in court was indecisive.
The woman has since died.
The eight-member panel is made up of judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and law enforcement.
Willie Grimes is 65 years old now, and he’s never stopped saying he was innocent of the rape charge that sent him to prison for life, but he’s never been able to get anyone to believe him.
But that all changed in Raleigh Wednesday with a convincing unanimous vote by North Carolina’s Innocence Commission.
Defense attorney Chris Mumma could not wait to call Grimes with the good news. “All eight members found for your case to move forward,” she told Grimes.
After three days of hearings in Raleigh, the commission said there is sufficient evidence of factual innocence in the 1987 rape and kidnapping convictions Grimes told the panel he never expected.
The critical development revealed in the innocence commission’s investigation was discovered in the original Hickory Police Department case file: a set of fingerprints lifted from a banana found in the home of the 69-year-old rape victim.
The prints did not match Grime, but they did match another man named Albert Turner.
“The fact that there was an independent hit to the person who was the first suspect in the case is very important,” Mumma said.
Mumma ended her conversation with Grimes explaining that his case will now go to a final three-judge panel that could exonerate him.
“It’s just one step. We still have a lot of work to do, but it’s an important step,” Mumma said.
Two family members of the woman who was raped spoke to the commission privately, so nothing is known of what they said to the panel.
Grimes is reportedly taking the victory calmly, knowing there is still another between him and freedom.