SHREVEPORT, La. (CN) – A Louisiana man who served more than 20 years in prison after being convicted of killing a pizza man as an intellectually disabled 16-year-old was released from prison Tuesday.
In January 1998, Corey Dewayne Williams was in front of a friend’s house in Shreveport, La., when a pizza delivery driver, 23-year-old Jarvis Griffin, was shot to death. Police arrived to the scene and Williams fled, only to confess to the murder soon after.
After confessing, Williams reportedly told police he was “ready to go home and lie down.”
Williams, now 36, was charged with murder, convicted, and sentenced to death. He was later resentenced to life in prison.
Williams, who had suffered extreme lead poisoning during childhood, was just three weeks past his 16th birthday at the time of his confession. According to a petition filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, he was still essentially a child: “He still sucked his thumb, urinated himself on an ordinary basis, and regularly ate dirt and paper.”
The filing continues: “Throughout his childhood, he was hospitalized for extreme lead poisoning, institutionalized multiple times, and placed in special education. In his community, he ‘was known to be a ‘duck’ or what one might refer to as a ‘chump,’’ who was willing to take the blame for things he did not do.”
On Tuesday, following a long court battle, Williams walked free from the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola where he had been imprisoned for more than 20 years.
Under the terms of a plea agreement filed in Caddo Parish state court Monday, Williams’ first-degree murder conviction and sentence were vacated in exchange for him agreeing to a lesser conviction of manslaughter and obstruction of justice, for which he was sentenced to time served.
His attorneys had asked the Supreme Court to hear the case. Louisiana authorities decided instead to settle.
In the joint motion filed Monday, Caddo Parish District Attorney James E. Stewart said the state undertook an investigation into the case and concluded Williams’ constitutional rights “were potentially violated at his original trial,” and the judge was asked to vacate his original conviction and sentence.
Suzanne Owen Williams, assistant district attorney of Caddo Parish, said in a statement Monday that questions about Williams’ conviction had arisen but “today it was all resolved by a plea agreement.”
Griffin had just returned to his car after delivering pizzas when someone fired the deadly shots at him, according to court records.
Money and the pizza were taken from Griffin’s car after the shooting. Police that same night found the money and pizza in a garbage can near the house of Williams’ older friends who had also been at the scene of the crime.
Witnesses pointed police to Williams as the shooter and the teenager was arrested.
“The police found Corey at his grandmother’s house, hiding under a sheet on the couch,” according to the petition for writ of certiorari filed with the Supreme Court.
Williams initially told police someone else killed Griffin but later confessed to killing the pizza man himself.
He “told the police that when the men asked him to help rob the pizza man, he ran home. Corey reported that one of the other men called him on the phone that night and said he would kill Corey if he told anyone what happened. ‘They trying to get me to go to jail for they charge,’ he said,” the petition states.
No physical evidence linked Williams to the crime.
When asked by police what he did with the cash, Williams asked, “There was money?”
During trial, defense counsel argued that the crime had been committed by the other men.
“The state mocked the defense as ‘the biggest set of circumstances concerning a conspiracy since John Kennedy was killed,’” Williams’ petition states.
In March, Williams’ attorneys filed the petition with the Supreme Court urging a reverse of his conviction on the basis that prosecutors had withheld witness statements that would have cleared Williams of the crime. Forty-four former Department of Justice officials also filed an amicus brief supporting Williams’ petition.
In response, Stewart, the district attorney, agreed to his immediate release.
In the plea agreement filed Monday, Williams waived any future claims of liability against the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s Office and the Shreveport Police Department.
Blythe Taplin of the Promise of Justice Initiative, who has been an attorney for Williams over the past decade, said in a statement that his release Tuesday “begins to rectify a wrong that has lasted for decades.”
“But it’d be a mistake to think this is just about the past,” Taplin continued. “We hope that other prosecutors will revisit injustices that have taken place — and continue to take place — across this state.”
Amir Ali of the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center in Washington, D.C., who also represented Williams, said, “Today, we ensure this tragedy ends here—Corey can finally go home. The district attorney’s decision not to defend the tragic decisions of his predecessors is commendable. Corey’s release is vindication that he was wrongfully targeted years ago by prosecutors who had no regard for truth or justice.”