GASTONIA, N.C. -- William James Grimes is out of prison Monday after spending more than 24 years behind bars for a crime he contends that he did not commit.
For Grimes sitting on the porch of his Gaston County home is sometime he couldn’t have imagined years ago.
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.
“Because I knew I was innocent” Grimes said as he sat on the front porch. “I was so anxious to go into court because I knew I didn’t do anything.”
But 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. “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.”
A panel of three judges may review Grimes case at a later date, but for now he is still considered a convicted rapist and had to register as a sex offender.
“I did that when I left jail today,” said Grimes.
“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.”