GASTONIA, N.C. -- A three member judge’s panel is set to meet Monday to review the Willie Grimes rape case.
Grimes was let free from prison on May 21 after spending more than 24 years behind bars for a crime he contends he did not commit.
Grimes is still considered a convicted rapist and had to register as a sex offender, but Monday’s meeting could change that. District Attorney Jay Gaiter said he has not seen the Plea for Declaration of Innocence and that there are three basic terms that have to be met before he would overturn the jury's verdict.
He said the burden of proof rests with Grimes to deliver to the panel. As for the verdict nearly 25 years ago, Gaiter said, "the original jury's verdict speaks for itself."
In 1987, 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.
“I still thought I would be OK when they said I was with them,” Grimes said earlier this year. “I was at a friend’s house with me and six more friends sitting around and talking.”
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.
“There were fingerprints found on fruit that the victim said the rapist touched when he was inside the apartment,” said Chris Mumma of the North Carolina Center of Actual Innocence.
The organization has been re-investigating the case since 2003.
“The prints were of the first person the police suspected, and there were no prints of a Willie Grimes,” Mumma added.
“I feel like I did a lot of years for something I didn’t do because the person that did the crime is still out there,” Grimes said in May.