Wrongfully Convicted: May 3, 1983
Exonerated: December 9, 2020
Walter Forbes was a young community college student when he was wrongfully charged with setting a fire in which one person died. At trial, a single witness implicated Forbes, and although her story was far from airtight, a jury convicted Forbes of first-degree felony murder. Sentenced to life in prison, Forbes would serve nearly 38 years in prison before finally being exonerated.
Forbes learned in the late 1980s that the man who owned the building that had burned down was convicted of arson for insurance fraud in a neighboring county. Forbes worked for years to collect documents relating to that conviction. The Innocence Clinic began working on Forbes’s case in 2010. With the Clinic’s help, Forbes managed to secure important evidence implicating the building’s owner as the true arsonist, and he also secured the recantation of the only witness to have implicated him at trial.
The new evidence was presented to Jackson County Circuit Judge Thomas Wilson in 2019. Judge Wilson held an evidentiary hearing over Zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic. Upon considering all the new evidence, he vacated the conviction in November 2020. The prosecution dismissed all charges, and Forbes was fully exonerated in December 2020.
More details available at:
- The National Registry of Exonerations: Walter Forbes
- The Detroit Free Press: Michigan man jailed for nearly 4 decades exonerated after witness admits to lying
- CNN: Imprisoned nearly 40 years, a Michigan man is freed after a witness recanted her story
- The New York Times: Convicted Using False Testimony, Walter Forbes is Free After 38 Years
- NBC News: Michigan man released from prison after spending 38 years wrongly locked up on arson charge