Nearly 3 Decades Later, an Exoneration

Herman Williams' wrongful conviction for ex-wife's murder tore family apart
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 8, 2022 11:28 AM CDT
His Wrongful Conviction Tore a Family Apart
Herman Williams, pictured with his attorneys, was exonerated and released from an Illinois prison on Tuesday.   (Ray Abercrombie for the Innocence Project)

"Don't give up." That's the message from a man who was just exonerated of a first-degree murder conviction for which he spent almost 29 years in prison. Herman Williams left Illinois' Sheridan Correctional Center on Tuesday after the Lake County State's Attorney's Office acknowledged "deeply erroneous scientific evidence, new DNA results, and a faulty trial." Williams was a decorated member of the Navy stationed in Waukegan when he was accused of killing his ex-wife in 1993, per CBS News. Williams, who'd remarried and then separated from another wife, had been living with Penny Williams and their two children in Gurnee and was viewed by detectives as the only suspect in her murder, the Illinois Innocence Project said.

He was alleged to have killed Penny by blunt force trauma, then dumped her body in a shallow pond in Waukegan so he could move on with his then-wife and his kids. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1994. His exoneration came after testing carried out last year determined DNA under Penny's fingernails didn't match her former husband's, and a bit of blood found in Williams' car didn't match Penny's, per CBS. Forensic pathologist Dr. Nancy Jones, a trial expert, was also found to have touted the unsupported claim that Penny died between Sept. 22 and 23—"essentially the only time period in which Mr. Williams could feasibly have committed the crime," according to the IIP—which contradicted another opinion she gave, stating Penny could've died Sept. 24.

That evidence, uncovered in 2021, wasn't disclosed at trial. Experts now agree Penny died closer to Sept. 26, per CBS. Additionally, Lou Tessman—a lead detective who claimed Williams confessed, while Williams was adamant that he hadn't—was found to have declared that suspects admitted to crimes in cases where they turned out to be innocent, including that of Juan Rivera. "This horrific crime not only robbed two children of their mother, but because of a flawed investigation, lies from police and prosecutors, and withheld evidence, they also had their father taken from them," said Williams' IIP attorney Lauren Kaeseberg. "It's still sinking in, but I feel vindicated," Williams, 58, said Tuesday of his exoneration, per CBS. "Anybody who knows me knows I couldn't have done this. I wouldn't have done this." (More wrongful conviction stories.)

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