A man imprisoned for nearly 22 years for rape took his final steps toward becoming a free man after being cleared by DNA evidence.
Willie O. "Pete" Williams, who maintained he was innocent of the charge, has spent nearly half his life in a Georgia prison. He was convicted of aggravated sodomy, kidnapping and rape when the victim identified him as the perpetrator in the April 1985 incident.
Williams was sentenced to 45 years. He would not have been eligible for parole until November 2021 at the earliest. Had he served his entire sentence, he would not have been released until May 13, 2030, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections Web site.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard on Monday ordered Williams released after he was exonerated.
Williams' exoneration of the charges came with the help of the Georgia Innocence Project. The organization examines cases where DNA evidence is available to test and there is a compelling claim of innocence. An attorney also volunteered his services.
"We are convinced today Mr. Williams was not responsible for this," Howard said at a news conference.
Howard said he has started an investigation to find the actual rapist in the 1985 attack on a woman at an apartment complex parking lot in Sandy Springs.
Howard said Williams would be returned to Fulton County from the Folkston prison and released on his own recognizance before the charges are officially cleared in about two weeks.