A man who spent nearly 37 years in jail after being falsely convicted of rape is now a front-runner to win America’s Got Talent.
Archie Williams, who was exonerated and freed last year, told judges he used to visualise himself on the show while watching it in prison.
He was accused of raping and stabbing a 30-year-old white woman at her home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1982, even though his fingerprints were not found at the scene.
Three people also testified that Williams was at home at the time of the crime, however the following year he was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
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While his voice is extraordinary, unfortunately his experience of being sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit is more common than people realize. I’m honored to become an Ambassador for the @innocenceproject and want to do what I can to help more people like Archie. @archiewilliamsofficial’s story is one of courage and hope – and I hope that by knowing more about his story and the Innocence Project, it will encourage more people to support the incredible work they do. These guys don’t just talk; they actually do something about it. The Innocence Project doesn’t just change people’s lives, they save people’s lives.
A post shared by @ simoncowell on May 26, 2020 at 6:22am PDT
Williams has always maintained his innocence.
Speaking on America’s Got Talent, he said: “I knew I was innocent, I didn’t commit a crime.
“But being a poor black kid, I didn’t have the ability to fight the state of Louisiana.”
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After spending more than 10 years in maximum security prison Louisiana State Penitentiary, the Innocence Project took up his case.
The non-profit legal organisation works to overturn wrongful convictions through the use of DNA testing.
After campaigning for 24 years, a new analysis of fingerprints at the scene identified a serial rapist as the man responsible for the crime – proving Williams’s innocence.
Just seven days later, all charges against Williams were dismissed and his convictions were quashed, and he was released from jail in March 2019.
I was moved to tears when I heard Archie’s story and saw him perform “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down on Me”. The courage and forgiveness shown by him is truly inspiring. The same spirit that the world found so inspiring with Nelson Mandela. Love, E xx https://t.co/oYxM3IyvWB
— Elton John (@eltonofficial) May 26, 2020
Williams says it was during his time in prison that he turned to singing to escape his “nightmare”.
His audition for the show, which will air tonight in America on NBC, was described by top judge Simon Cowell as something he “will never forget for the whole of my life”.
Williams sings Elton John’s 1974 song Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me.
Lyrics including, “I’d just allow a fragment of your life to wander free, ’cause losing everything is like the sun going down on me”, take on particular poignancy in his rendition.
The singer received a standing ovation from both the judges and the audience.
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Elton John himself tweeted to say he was “moved to tears” by the performance, comparing Williams’s spirit to that of Nelson Mandela.
Williams has described appearing on the show as “the chance of a lifetime”.
Cowell, creator of the talent show, has now become an ambassador for the Innocence Project.