A Michigan man has finally been freed from prison after nearly 40 years of being wrongfully incarcerated.
In 1982, Walter Forbes attempted to break up a fight between two groups near his college, but he was shot four times by one of the men involved the very next day.
The shooter, Dennis Hall, was killed shortly after in an arson fire. Forbes was blamed for the attack, and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
After all these years, a key witness in the case has recanted her testimony.
Forbes said he first learned of Hall’s death while listening to a morning radio program.
“Some way they’re going to try to frame this on me,” Forbes told CNN. “That thought went through my mind.”
Three months after the fire, a young mother named Annice Kennebrew came forward and said she had seen Forbes and two other men carrying red gasoline canisters near the building and saw them pour gasoline around it.
However, Kennebrew’s version of the story did not match the facts discovered by investigators.
She described gasoline being poured on the exterior of the building, while investigators found only found evidence of accelerants on the inside. Also, the gas canister found a the scene was blue, not red.
“I don’t hold contempt for the people who lied to convict me … The reason is selfish: I wasn’t going to allow them to destroy me," said Walter Forbes, freed and exonerated last week after 37 years with the help of @UofMInnocence. https://t.co/WfanIitchU
— The Innocence Project (@innocence) December 14, 2020
There were also other suspects in the case at the time, but the evidence against them was deemed inadmissible for court. Most notably is the fact that the owner of the building was accused of starting the fire in some sort of insurance scam.
David Jones, who had owned the building for eight years, got it insured two months before the fire, according to fire investigator notes.
The person who actually set the fire later admitted to a local fire investigator that he set the fire for the building owner for $1,000, but it was too late, Forbes had already been convicted.
Forbes thoroughly researched his case in prison, and noticed that Jones had been accused of arson in the past.
“It was a pattern with this guy,” Forbes said.
Forbes reached out to the Michigan Innocence Clinic and suggested that he was framed by the Jones, who had a history of running insurance scams.
EXONERATED: "I don't hold any bitterness against her and I forgive her because she was a victim also.” Walter Forbes is now a free man after spending 40 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. He has every right to be bitter, but he is not. #JustMercy pic.twitter.com/pooWDYEhWG
— Dr. Nicole Cross (@DrNicoleCross) December 17, 2020
The agency began looking into his case in 2010.
Workers with the agency began tracking down the witnesses and noticed discrepancies. Kennebrew, who was now sick, ended up coming clean, saying that she was intimidated by two men who told her to implicate Forbes instead of them.
“They threatened to kill my children, parents, siblings, and me if I did not report to the police and testify at trial that I saw Walter and the other two men set the fire,” Kennebrew said in a sworn statement.
“Everything I told police, and everything I testified to at trial relating to my witnessing the setting of the fire, was a fabrication. As far as I know, Walter had nothing to do with this crime,” she added.
The clinic argued Forbes was owed a new trial based on the witness’s testimony, and the case should have been thrown out years ago, but prosecutors refused to give him a new trial. Finally, a judge threw out the case, and allowed Forbes out of prison.