Local News

Convicted rapist maintains innocence in 1987 case

Posted April 3, 2012

— A Hickory man serving a life sentence in prison for a rape he says he didn't commit testified Tuesday before a special state panel that will decide whether his conviction should be reconsidered.

Willie J. Grimes, 65, told the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission that he had no idea why police wanted to arrest him in the fall of 1987 and that he offered to take a lie detector test when he found out he was the suspect in the rape of a 69-year-old woman.

But police didn't take him up on the offer.

Grimes said he also wanted police to collect hair samples from him for testing against a rape kit.

"I knew I was innocent, and I knew that if they had something, mine wouldn't match whatever they had, because I didn't do anything," he said.

 Willie Grimes Innocence Commission hearing video

Grimes was convicted less than a year later on two counts of first-degree rape and one count of second-degree kidnapping in the Oct. 24, 1987, crime. He is serving his sentence at Gaston Correctional Center, a minimum security prison in Dallas, N.C.

The eight-member panel of judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement officers and other individuals reviews claims of innocence from convicted criminals and considers new, credible evidence that might justify a new verdict.

If it determines that Grimes' case merits further review, it will refer it to a three-judge panel to decide whether his conviction should be overturned.

Grimes told the Innocence Commission that he had met the victim only once. It was a month before the crime when he had asked to use her phone to report a disturbance involving a man named Albert Lindsay Turner at the home of his friend, who was the victim's neighbor.

But she never allowed him in the house and called police for him, Grimes said.

He said he didn't know she had been raped until his arrest. That afternoon, he returned home from work to learn that police were looking for him. He asked his girlfriend take him to the Hickory police station to find out why.

"I didn't have any idea, because I knew I didn't do anything," he said. "That's the reason I went up there – to find out."

Investigators never tried to talk to him after they arrested him. He told commissioners that, if they had, he would have cooperated.

A State Bureau of Investigation analyst testified Monday that fingerprints on a banana matched Turner, now 65, who has a long criminal record, with several convictions of assault on a female as well as assault with a deadly weapon and felony breaking and entering.

Also at issue in the case is the victim's identification of Grimes. She initially identified him in a photo line-up but later on in court was indecisive about who he was. On a third occasion, she identified Grimes' attorney as her attacker, the attorney testified Monday.

Several people also testified in Grimes' trial that they saw him before, during and after the time of the attack and that he could not have committed the crime.

Investigators did find a hair that was "microscopically consistent" with Grimes', Troy Hamlin, a former hairs analyst for the state, testified Tuesday.

But he said he couldn't say for certain that the hair – the only piece of physical evidence linking Grimes to the crime – matched him.

Hair science has changed drastically since the advent of DNA technology, Hamlin said, and hair analysis is now used as a screening technique before DNA analysis – the only way to prove identity.

Max Houck, an expert in microscopic hair comparison, testified that he would have likely recommended to prosecutors not to use the hair if there were no strong circumstantial evidence in the case.

Today, he said, he would recommend a microscopic examination and then have DNA testing on it.

But the hair cannot be tested again. All of the evidence, with the exception of the fingerprints on the banana, was inexplicably destroyed several years after the trial, a staff attorney investigating the case for the Innocence Commission said.

The Innocence Commission is expected to wrap up the hearing on Wednesday. That's also when it could decide if Grimes' case should go passed along for a judicial review.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • jackcdneh1017 Apr 4, 2012

    @barbstillkickin What an incredible statement you make even in the face of clear evidence that points away from Mr. Grimes. When you examine your conscience, do you not have an open mind at all to the possibility of a mistake? "the man looks dangerous to me" more clearly speaks to your pre-conceived notions of what a rapist looks like than anything else. My guess is that you are afraid of any person who looks like Mr. Grimes, that is any elderly african american male. That is your opinion and my hope is that you do not come to harm at the hands of the man who went free (Mr. Turner) despite clear evidence of his presence at the crime scene and a history of similar crimes.

  • barbstillkickin Apr 4, 2012

    Wow what a surprise he says he is innocent. I do not believe him for one second. Sorry if you so called activist disagree with me but I have a right to my opinion. This man looks dangerous so if you get him freed sure hope your child or you are not his next victim. Sure hope you do not get hurt by the man you worked so hard to free.

  • jackcdneh1017 Apr 4, 2012

    It is actually incorrect that most in prison claim to be innocent. Most actually are aware of their guilt and are trying to pay their price to society. Based on actual exonerations of capital murder cases alone, it is estimated that somewhere between 1% (at a minimum) and 5% of all prisoners in the United States are wrongfully convicted. Percentage wise, this is a tiny fraction because it means that 99 percent convicted are in fact guilty. But in true numbers, the amount is surprisingly enormous. At 1% there are 20,000 people sitting in U.S. prisons even though completely innocent. This is a far cry from Blackstone's statement "better to let ten guilty go free than convict one innocent man". One of the key components of wrongful conviction is that prosecutors and police enjoy absolute immunity from misconduct in convictions. Often this means that they can break laws without consequence such as witness tampering and subornation of perjury in a "win at all costs" mentality.

  • In Decisive Apr 3, 2012

    Not all convicted people are innocent and railroaded. But if there is DNA or other evidence available it should be tested. Eyewitnesses can be unreliable and no one should be convicted on only eyewitness testimony. These old cases coming up deserve a review. Many of them are convictions based on an eyewitness as the main piece of evidence.

    By the way, WRAL's Kelly Gardener is a he.

  • gandalla Apr 3, 2012

    this type of police abuse will not stop until we hold these investigators and da accountable

  • Rebelyell55 Apr 3, 2012

    In some case, when the DA and police were found to be wrong in hiding evident and leaving out information that shows the person is innoncent, then you got room for this type of appeal coming forward. Yes, it's been shown many, (too many) time that a conviction was more important to them than the truth. No saying this is one of those cases.

  • jackleg Apr 3, 2012

    onepilot61 --

    they didn't post my previous comment (yet?), but I wanted to acknowledge that you were right about my mixup on who the neighbor was... I was kinda pointing out that the convicted man wasn't the banana guy,

  • eoglane Apr 3, 2012

    Most are quilty, maybe a few are not. But only a very tiny few and that is maybe

  • jackleg Apr 3, 2012

    "Yet another waist of taxpayer money."
    -- AlbertEinstein

    And I'm guessing that the tax dollars spent on your grammar education in 2nd grade were "waisted" too, Albert.

    Why is it that the people who think they're the smartest end up being the most ignorant???

  • jackleg Apr 3, 2012

    I can't believe the people in here!

    Well, actually I can. I went to school in Wake Co. ha ha

    Not only does it CLEARLY state in the article that the convicted man didn't leave ANY fingerprints, people still are asking... even after I took the time to spell it out and quote everything.