Last month, a Michigan man was released from prison after serving 37 years for a crime he didn’t commit.
Walter Forbes, 63, is released after a key witness from his trial in 1983 admitted that the testimony she had given was false.
Forbes was first arrested in 1982 after he broke up a bar fight. One of the men involved in the brawl, Dennis Hall, shot Forbes the following day. Hall died later in a fire that was ruled as arson.
The prosecution largely based their case on the testimony of one witness, Annice Kennebrew, who said that she had seen Forbes at the scene of the fire. Subsequently, Forbes was falsely convicted of arson and murder.
In 2017, Kennebrew came forward and admitted that she had never seen Forbes at the scene.
According to court documents obtained by Detroit Free Press, Kennebrew testified that she had ‘falsely implicated Mr. Forbes because she had been intimidated into doing so by two local men who knew her from around the neighborhood and who had threatened to harm her and her family if she did not implicate Mr. Forbes’
After Forbe’s release, he told the Detroit Free Press that ‘even though it took forever’, he is ‘still grateful she did the right thing, that she did finally tell the truth’.
Forbes also condemned the justice system that failed him.
“Calling it the justice system gives a false impression. Just using the term ‘justice’ gives you the sense that it is a just system,” the 63-year old said.
“I couldn’t believe it was happening. One of the things I had faith in was that the truth was going to come out, that there was no way they were going to convict me for those lies,” Forbes said about his conviction. “Up until I was convicted, I thought the system would work, that it would correct itself. In hindsight, I was naive.”
In US law, a witness who knowingly lies under oath can be charged with perjury, but the statute of limitations for the crime is around six years.
As of this writing, it is still unclear if Kennebrew will face any repercussions for her lie.
Imran Syed of the Michigan Innocence Clinic, Forbes’ lawyer, told the Detroit Free Press that a perjury charge, in this case, can be dangerous and counterproductive.
“We want people who lied to come forward. The community as a whole is harmed if lies remain hidden forever,” the lawyer said.