This story is the fourteenth in a series, Unrequited Innocence, that looks at cases where people were sentenced to die and have not been exonerated despite significant evidence of innocence.
Corey Dewayne Williams took a reduced plea last year for his alleged role in a robbery-murder he confessed to at age 16, after an all-night interrogation in police custody.
While delivering a pizza to a party in Shreveport on Jan. 4, 1998, Jarvis Griffin, 23, was robbed and shot to death. Williams, then 16 and with an IQ of 68, confessed to the crime the next morning after an all-night interrogation. He was convicted primarily because of the confession and sentenced to death on Oct. 28, 2000, two years before the U.S. Supreme Court banned the death penalty for intellectually disabled defendants, and five years before the court banned the penalty for minors.
On the night of the crime, Williams joined a group of teenagers and young adults outside the home of Renee Iverson, who had ordered the pizza. Also at the party was Iverson’s 20-year-old boyfriend Nathan Logan, his 16-year-old brother Gabriel, and 20-year-old Chris Moore. When Griffin arrived with the pizza, Iverson paid him and he returned to his car, where he was shot, allegedly by Williams. The car rolled down the street, veering into a porch where witnesses said Gabriel Logan took a bank bag and a pizza from the car before fleeing with Moore. They put the bag and pizza box into a dumpster.
Nathan Logan claimed Williams had hidden the murder weapon, a .25-caliber semi-automatic pistol, in a barbecue pit, where Nathan and Gabriel Logan retrieved and cleaned it before hiding it in another location.
The trial began before Caddo Parish District Judge Scott J. Crichton, a former prosecutor, who denied a motion to suppress Williams’s confession as involuntary. Prosecutor Hugo Holland has sent 10 men to death row, the most of any prosecutor in Louisiana, though half the sentences were overturned and none have been executed.
The main evidence linking Williams to the crime, other than his confession, was the testimony of Chris Moore, who testified that he’d seen Williams shoot Griffin. No physical evidence linked him to the crime, but Nathan Logan’s fingerprint had been found on an empty clip in the recovered pistol and Griffin’s blood had been found on Gabriel Logan’s clothing. Williams’s lawyer argued that Moore and the Logans had likely killed Griffin and “got together” to pin the crime on Williams. The jury, however, found Williams guilty and sentenced him to death.
On Nov. 1, 2002, the Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed the conviction but remanded the case for resentencing based on the U.S. Supreme Court decision to ban the death penalty for the mentally disabled. Williams was sentenced to life in prison in 2004. After filing for post-conviction relief in 2005, several supplemental petitions culminated in the belated 2015 disclosure of evidence that Williams’s attorney called “a toxic combination of hubris, deceit and indifference” by Holland, the prosecutor.
The new evidence included an electronic recording of a police interview hours after the crime with Nathan Logan, who proclaimed, based on what he had seen, that the murder “had to” have been committed by his brother, Gabriel Logan, and that “it don’t make any sense” to say that Williams had done it. Not only had the recording been withheld, but before trial the defense was given a summary of the interview falsely stating, “Nathan thought that Corey shot the man.” Another suppressed recording from the night of the murder was a police interview with witness Patrick Anthony, who reported that, before the murder, he had seen Nathan Logan give the murder weapon to Chris Moore and, after the murder, Anthony helped Moore and the Logans hide the same weapon where police recovered it.
The prosecution conceded the recordings and other exculpatory evidence had been withheld, but asserted that the evidence was immaterial since Williams had confessed and thus the new evidence would not have changed the outcome of the trial. Judge Katherine Clark Dorroh agreed and denied Williams relief in 2015.
In 2018, a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court on Williams’s behalf was filed, arguing that “the record in this case epitomizes the dangers of allowing prosecutors to … suppress exculpatory evidence based upon their pretrial assessment of what would be ‘material’ to the defense.” Forty-four high-level Justice Department lawyers and other prominent attorneys urged the court to reverse Williams’s judgment.
As the petition was pending, Caddo Parish District Attorney James Stewart and Williams’s lawyers filed a joint motion asking that Williams’s conviction and sentence be vacated and that he be immediately released, in exchange for pleading guilty to manslaughter and obstruction of justice. The motion was granted and Williams was released.
On May 22, 2018, Williams walked free, but not exonerated, more than 20 years after his arrest for a crime police doubted he had committed from the very beginning. By pleading guilty, Williams forfeited his ability to pursue civil damages, but attorney Amir Ali told a reporter, “This was an impossible deal for Corey to turn down. I think, given the circumstances, it was the best possible outcome for Corey.”