A panel of judges on Friday overturned the rape conviction of Willie Grimes, who was imprisoned for more than two decades for the sexual assault of a Hickory woman.
Grimes has long said that he did not commit the crime, and a state panel ruled this spring that enough evidence of his innocence existed. It referred the case to a three-judge panel to decide whether the conviction should be overturned.
The panel has been meeting since Monday.
On Friday, District Attorney Jay Gaither joined Grimes defense team and offered him an apology.
Afterwards, a relieved Grimes was all smiles hugging friends and family throughout the room.
Grimes was arrested in 1987 after a Hickory woman was raped in her apartment. Hickory police had a potential suspect shortly after the crime, but then Grimes name came up. Grimes heard that police were looking for him, so he walked down to police headquarters. He had no idea that he would not see the outside world for more than two decades later.
Court offered Grimes no sense of vindication, only more problems. He had asked Hickory police for a rape kit after they arrested him for the crime. He said that request actually hurt him. In court the prosecution said there was a strand of hair belonging to a black man on the items of the white rape victim.
In court the hair was never positively identified at Grimes hair, just the hair of an African American man. Grimes said that he was at a house more than a mile-and-a-half away with friends who all testified that he was at the house during the time of the rape.
But that testimony did not sway his jury. There was other evidence that never made it into the Catawba County courtroom for jurors to hear like fingerprints.
The North Carolina Center of Actual Innocence organization has been re-investigating the case since 2003, and many Grimes supporters were in court Friday morning.