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Gurnee man freed after 1994 murder conviction tossed

WAUKEGAN, Ill. (AP) — A 58-year-old northern Illinois man who spent nearly half of his life behind bars after being found guilty of killing his ex-wife walked out of a prison Tuesday after a judge vacated his conviction.

Herman Williams of Gurnee was freed from the downstate Sheridan Correctional Center following nearly 29 years of incarceration after Lake County Judge Mark Levitt threw out his conviction for killing Penny Williams, whose body was found in a Waukegan pond on Sept. 26, 1993.

The Navy veteran’s exoneration came after work by his attorneys affiliated with the Illinois Innocence Project and then confirmed and acknowledged by the Lake County state’s attorney’s office.

Innocence Project attorneys Lauren Kaeseberg and Vanessa Potkin argued Williams’ 1994 conviction was based on scientifically unsupported testimony regarding his ex-wife’s time of death. They also said new, advanced DNA testing did not find Williams’ DNA on key biological evidence.

Williams was convicted of murder after a jury trial in 1994. But, citing “scientifically unsupported evidence” presented during the trial, new DNA results, and failure to tender critical scientific material to the defense, Lake County prosecutors stated they no longer had any faith in the original verdict.

Prosecutors at the time argued Williams killed his ex-wife so he could take his children to California, where he was being restationed.


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