Never underestimate the power of family. After Lawrence Williams was convicted in 2009 for assault, attempted robbery, and illegal gun possession and sentenced to ten years in prison, his family got to work investigating the crime and uncovering the real criminal.
It all started on April 21, 2008 when 21-year-old Alberto Ortiz was approached by two men attempting to steal a chain from around his neck while waiting for the elevator at an aparment complex. Ortiz resisted, and one man fled. The second man had a gun, shot Ortiz in the neck, and fled without grabbing the chain. A 15-year-old girl was in the hallway and witnessed the shooting. Initially, the girl was unable to identify any suspects from a photo lineup at the police station. Ortiz later made a statement about two men he saw sitting outside the apartment building when he entered the building earlier that day. The men, he said, followed him into the elevator and got off on the same floor as him, even though they had pushed a button for a different floor. The same two men were the men that approached him later that evening as he left the apartment. Police found a bag in the stairwell of the apartment building that Ortiz said looked like a bag that one of the suspects was carrying. A t-shirt in the bag contained DNA evidence that pointed to another man, who was never arrested or questioned about the incident. Video surveillance in the elevator was not helpful in identifying the suspects — both men were wearing baseball caps and the image quality was poor.
Days after the shooting, police stated that Ortiz told them that he had heard the shooter was named Lawrence Williams, although Ortiz denied ever making that statement. Police found 64 images of men with that name in their database, with no other connections to the crime, and Ortiz picked out 32-year-old Lawrence Williams who had been arrested 15 times since 2003. He was arrested on May 20, 2008, and was picked out of a line up by both Ortiz and the 15-year-old witness. Williams proclaimed innocence from the start, and stated he had been at home with his wife the night of the shooting. His wife corroborated his alibi. On March 8, 2009, the jury convicted Williams of assault, attempted robbery, and illegal gun possession, but acquitted him of attempted murder. He was sentenced to ten years in prison.
Williams wife, Stephanie, and other family members hired two private investigators who Taevon Hutchinson, the man whose DNA was found on the t-shirt in the bag carried by the robbers. Hutchinson confessed to the shooting, and stated that Williams was not involved. A letter drafted by the family detailing the confession and Williams’ innocence was faxed to the district attorney in February, 2012. It was given to a new department, the Conviction Integrity Unit, led by John O’Mara. The defense attorney for Williams sought to overturn the conviction based on this new evidence. In April, 2012, Williams was released from prison and his sentence was suspended. An investigation by the CIU confirmed the confession from Hutchinson, and also determined that it was impossible for Williams to have been involved in the shooting with Hutchinson because the video showed that the gunman was much taller than his accomplice, and Williams and Hutchinson are the same height. The investigation also failed to determine how the police came up with Williams’ name. The original detective that stated Ortiz had given the name later said that was incorrect, and that it was his aunt that gave him the name. The aunt also denied ever providing Williams’ name.
On October 16, 2012, O’Mara filed a motion agreeing that the conviction should be vacated because he felt Lawrence Williams was not guilty. On Friday, October 26, 2012, the charges were dismissed and the conviction vacated. The judge in the case stated that should Williams decide to seek compensation for his wrongful conviction, he “certainly wish[ed him] success with that.”