Victims of the State

Warren County, OH

Ryan Widmer

Aug 11, 2008

Ryan Widmer was convicted of murder for the bathtub drowning of his wife, Sarah Widmer. The drowning occurred at the Widmer's home in Hamilton Township. Police testified that when found, Sarah's body was drier that it should have been according to story given to them by Ryan. This alleged discrepancy was basically the sole evidence against Ryan. There was no known motive and no evidence that either Sarah or Ryan engaged in a struggle. Sarah's family did not believe the charges against Ryan and held up Sarah's funeral so Ryan could attend. Friends and family said Ryan had no known history of getting angry. They also said Sarah was known to spend hours in the bathtub and that she habitually fell asleep, even as she sat in a car on her way to social outings or during movies. It is possible that Sarah suffered from an undiagnosed seizure disorder or narcolepsy. Some jurors at Ryan's trial engaged in apparent misconduct by conducting their own drying time experiments.  ( (Archives)  [6/09]

Baltimore County, MD 

Kevin Wiggins

Sept 15, 1988

Kevin Wiggins was convicted of the murder of Florence G. Lacs, 77, who was last seen on Sept. 15, 1988 and found drowned in her bathtub on Sept 17. On the night of Sept 15, and on the following day, Wiggins and his girlfriend allegedly used Lacs's credit cards and car, and on Sept. 17, they pawned a ring she owned. Lacs's apartment was ransacked, but Wiggins's fingerprints were not found in the apartment, and unidentified fingerprints were found. Wiggins was sentenced to death. In 2001, a federal judge overturned the conviction, ruling that “no rational finder of fact could have found Wiggins guilty of murder beyond a reasonable doubt.” In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated Wiggins murder conviction, but not his death sentence.  (Baltimore Sun)  [12/05]

Erie County, PA

Corinne Wilcott

June 8, 2002  (Erie)

Corinne Wilcott was convicted of fetal homicide. During a fight, Wilcott had twice kicked her husband's pregnant lover, Sheena Carson, in the belly. Wilcott later said she did not believe Carson was pregnant. Following the fight, doctors could not detect a fetal heartbeat. The baby was stillborn four days later. Although there was no bruising on Carson’s abdomen, Dr. Eric Vey, a pathologist, told Wilcott's jury that the fetus suffocated when the blunt force trauma of Wilcott’s kick separated the placenta from the uterine wall.

Dr. Miles Jones, the defense’s forensic expert, testified that such kicks would not constitute enough trauma to cause a placental abruption. He said the impact would have to be equivalent to a serious car accident. He also suggested significant bacteria found on Carson’s placenta showed the child could have died as much as a month prior to the fight. He added Carson had no pain, bleeding, or spiked heart rate normally associated with a placental abruption. Wilcott was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Other evidence supports the defense view that Carson's baby was dead long before the fight. Based on her prenatal examination, Carson should have been 18 to 19 weeks pregnant. Vey, who did not view Carson's previous medical history, determined the fetal age to be 15.2 weeks, based on the size and development of the baby’s organs. Dr. Mark Caine, a gynecologist, said his examination of autopsy photographs show no placental abruption occurred,. He also concluded that the fetus was dead long before the fight.  (Justice)  [11/09]


Jennifer Wilcox - See Aldridge & Wilcox

Joseph Wildred - See Berdue & Wildred

Osage County, OK

Gregory Wilhoit

May 31, 1985 (Tulsa)

Gregory Ralph Wilhoit was convicted of murdering his estranged wife, Kathryn, and sentenced to death. The prosecution presented evidence that the bite mark found on his dead wife came from Wilhoit's teeth and that there was a rare type of bacteria found around the bite mark that traced back to Wilhoit. The conviction was overturned for attorney incompetency because Wilhoit's counsel had suffered brain damage in an accident a year before trial and was abusing alcohol and prescription drugs. Wilhoit was released in 1991. At retrial in 1993, his defense had 11 forensic ondontologists refute the bite mark findings. They also stated that the “rare” bacteria were quite common. Wilhoit was acquitted.  (PC)  [7/05]

Philadelphia County, PA

Robert Wilkinson

Oct 5, 1975

Robert Wilkinson, a mildly retarded man, was convicted in 1976 of the arson murders of five people. At 3:25 a.m. on Oct 5, 1975 someone used a Molotov cocktail to firebomb the home of Radamas Santiago. The Santiagos, who lived at 4419 North 4th Street, were then asleep in their home. Radamas and one of his sons, Carlos, survived. Radamas's wife, three of his children, and Luis Caracini, a guest in the house, perished in the fire. At the time of the firebombing, 14-year-old Nelson Garcia, a friend of the Santiagos, was sleeping on their front porch. His hair aflame, Garcia fled from the house, looking for a fire alarm. Garcia saw Robert Wilkinson in an automobile stopped near the Santiago home. Because Wilkinson was the first person he saw, Garcia assumed that Wilkinson had thrown the firebomb. He accused Wilkinson, who police then arrested. Garcia later elaborated that he had seen Wilkinson throw a bottle with a burning cloth onto the Santiago porch.
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Los Angeles County, CA

Bob Williams

1955 - 56

Robert E. Williams, also known as Bob, was was convicted of the murders of Matt Manestar and Ralph Burgess. Manestar, 56, was the owner of the Rose Motel located at 1345 West Pacific Coast Highway in Harbor City. He was killed on the night of Jan. 22-23, 1956. Williams confessed to this murder while in a northern California juvenile correction camp. He figured his confession would allow him to contact his girlfriend as it would force his transfer to police custody in southern California for questioning. He was anxious to contact her because he believed she was about to marry someone else. He also figured that he could not be convicted of murdering Manestar as he was incarcerated at the correction camp when the murder occurred. Unfortunately Williams figured wrong.

Two years later, in an effort to free himself by proving that an innocent person could be convicted of murder due to a false confession, Williams decided to confess to another murder that occurred while he was in the correction camp. In a Long Beach newspaper Williams found a story about the unsolved murder of Ralph Burgess. Burgess, a salesman, was murdered on Nov. 20, 1955 at McKinney's furniture store at 2430 East Pacific Coast Highway in Long Beach. While five fellow inmates watched him, Williams wrote out a confession to this murder using details from the newspaper. Williams was proven right more than he had hoped. When put on trial for the murder, he was convicted again. He was not allowed to refute his confession by calling his fellow inmates as witnesses.

Seventeen years later, in 1975, Williams was paroled from prison. He began working on establishing his innocence. Eventually, in a San Pedro police records room, he found a letter from a correction camp supervisor camp stating he had been in custody at the time of Manestar's murder. This letter had been withheld from Williams' defense at trial. In 1978, a judge released Williams from his life parole, effectively ending his sentence.  (News Article) (ISI)  [7/09]

Danial Williams - See Norfolk Four

Dennis Williams - See Ford Heights Four

George Williams - See Doves and Williams

Summit County, OH 

Jimmy Williams


Jimmy “Spunk” Williams was convicted of the rape of a 12-year-old girl. An attorney, appointed to represent him at a parole hearing in Dec. 2000, set up a meeting with the father of the victim. Three months later the victim recanted her identification of Williams. The victim originally claimed she was raped after her parents confronted her about sucker marks, which were on her neck. The victim and a girlfriend testified they had been experimenting with sexual activity, and the girlfriend, who was also 12, had made the sucker marks. At trial, doctors could not say that the victim was raped. They could only say the victim was not a virgin. The victim apparently still maintained she had been raped, but stated in court that she did not see her assailant's face. Williams was released in 2001 and awarded $750,000 by the state of Ohio in 2005.  (Plain Dealer) (Vindicator) (AP News)  [9/07]

Jefferson Parish, LA 

Kevin Williams

Oct 6, 1985 (Kenner)

Kevin Williams was convicted of the armed robbery of a 7-Eleven convenience store. Two 18 to 20-year-old black males robbed the store of $15 at about 10:54 p.m. One held a gun while the other took money from the cash register. The cashier called police and her call was logged in at 10:56 p.m. Two teenagers had seen the robbers flee in a brown car. At 11:06 p.m., police stopped Williams and his friend Ernest Brown about 1 1/2 miles from the crime scene. They were driving a brown car of similar description as that of the robbers. The cashier identified the 28-year-old Williams as being the unarmed robber. She cleared Brown of involvement. Neither man had any money or gun on them, but police found two six-packs of Pepsi in the car.
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Jackson Parish, LA

Michael Williams

Feb 21, 1981

Sixteen-year-old Michael Anthony Williams had a crush on his 22-year-old math tutor, and had bothered her after she refused to be his girlfriend. In November 1980, he bothered her when she worked at her father's store, and while there he broke a window during an altercation. He was arrested and sent to jail. Sixteen days after he was released, she was raped in the early morning hours. Despite the fact that her assailant covered her face with bedding, she claimed to have seen him by the moonlight and that he was Michael Williams. At trial, Williams and his family testified that he was at home that night, but the prosecution argued that he climbed out his bedroom window, committed the rape, and disposed of the clothes he wore before returning. Williams was convicted of aggravated rape and sentenced to life imprisonment. DNA tests exonerated Williams in 2005.  (IP)  [12/05]

Peter Williams - See Young, Hill, & Williams

Kings County, NY

Samuel Tito Williams

Apr 20, 1947

Samuel Tito Williams was sentenced to death for the murder of 15-year-old Selma Graff. Graff was fatally bludgeoned by an intruder about 2 a.m. in the bedroom of her home. She lived at 143 East 96th St. in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn. Graff's 9-year-old brother, Donald Graff, shared her room and struggled with the intruder before being clubbed into unconsciousness. Donald described the intruder as a 5'5" white man who simpered or giggled. The murder touched off one of New York City's biggest manhunts.

Five months after the murder, police arrested 18-year-old Williams for a series of alleged burglaries. He reportedly was inclined to giggle. After police questioning, Williams confessed to the Graff murder and identified a flashlight found at the scene as his own. However, Williams was not a 5'5" white man, but a 6' tall black man. Following Williams' confession, eight police officers involved with the case received rewards in the form of promotions, added pay, and certificates of commendation. Eleven officers on the case were awarded $50 government bonds during an eight-course banquet sponsored by the Pitkin Avenue Merchants Association.

At trial the victim's brother identified the killer as a white man, but later said he “was all mixed up.” Williams testified that his confession was obtained under duress. He said detectives had was beaten him with “a blackjack, a rubber hose, and a club,” and that they also burned him with “lighted cigarettes and cigars.” The jury convicted Williams of murder with a recommendation of mercy. However, trial judge Louis Goldstein imposed a death sentence. Governor Dewey later commuted Williams' death sentence to life in prison. In 1963 the U.S. Court of Appeals vacated Williams' conviction after ruling that his confession was coerced. In 1973 New York City awarded Williams $120,000 for his false arrest and the malicious prosecution he suffered.  (NY Times)  [7/09]

 Dallas County, TX

Thomas Wayne Williams

Cleared 2002

Thomas Wayne Williams was convicted of drug charges on the basis of fake evidence manufactured by Dallas police officers Quentis Roper and Daniel Maples. The officers were shaking down people for money. Williams was sentenced to life imprisonment. Gov. Rick Perry commutted his sentence in 2002.  (DrugSense) (FJDB)  [7/05]

Fulton County, GA 

Willie Williams

Apr 5, 1985

Willie “Pete” Williams was convicted of kidnapping, raping, and sodomizing a woman at the Sandy Springs apartment complex. At trial, he was identified by the victim, who when asked to rate her certainty on a scale of 1 to 100, answered, “120.” Williams was also identified by the victim of an attempted rape that occurred at a different apartment complex a few days after the first rape. Williams' prosecutor, Frederic Tokars, was later sentenced to two life sentences on charges relating to the murder for hire of his wife. DNA tests exonerated Williams in 2007 and he was released from prison.  (Atlanta JC) (IP)  [2/07]

Jack Williamson - See Pompano Boys

Pontotoc County, OK

Williamson & Fritz

Dec 8, 1982 (Ada)

Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz were convicted of the rape and murder of Debra Sue Carter. The two were sentenced to death and life respectively. At one point, Williamson came within 5 days of execution. Both spent 11 years in prison. At trial the prosecution failed to turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense. DNA tests exonerated both Williamson and Fritz and implicated prosecution witness Glen Gore. The case (against Williamson especially) is the subject of a 2006 book, The Innocent Man by John Grisham. The prosecution of Williamson and Fritz occurred after two other innocents, Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot, were convicted of another Ada murder, even though that murder occurred 16 months later. Grisham suggests the Williamson-Fritz prosecution was initiated to deflect criticism made regarding the Ward-Fontenot convictions. Dennis Fritz has also written a book entitled Journey Toward Justice.  (IP1) (IP2) (JP) (NYT) (Book Review) (Frontline:  RW, DF)

Navarro County, TX 

Todd Willingham

Dec 23, 1991 (Corsicana)

Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted of murdering his three daughters by setting his house on fire. Under police interrogation, Willingham said that his wife, Stacy, had left the house around 9 a.m. After she got out of the driveway, he heard his one-year-old twin daughters cry, so he got up and gave them a bottle. The children’s room had a safety gate across the doorway which his two-year-old daughter, Amber, could climb over but not the twins. He and Stacy often let the twins nap on the floor after they drank their bottles. Since Amber was still in bed, he went back into his room to sleep. Willingham's house was warmed by three space heaters, one of which was in the children's bedroom. This heater had an internal flame. Amber had been taught not to play with the heater though she reportedly got “whuppings every once in a while for messing with it.”
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Caddo Parish, LA 

Calvin Willis

June 1981 (Shreveport)

Calvin Willis was convicted of raping a 10-year-old girl and sentenced to life without parole. Willis was convicted because he is a type O secretor as is a large percentage of the male population and because he wears a cowboy hat as did the rapist. The assailant left behind a pair of size 40 boxers, but Willis only wears a size 30. DNA tests exonerated Willis in 2003.  (IP) (TruthInJustice) (GQ)  [10/05]

Hinds County, MS 

Cedric Willis

June 16, 1994 (Jackson)

Cedric Willis was convicted in 1997 of the armed robbery of Carl White, Jr., his wife Gloria, and daughter Jamilla at their home in Jackson. During the robbery, the robber shot White in the leg, and since White later died of the gunshot wound, Willis was also convicted of his murder. The Whites identified Willis as the perpetrator. The gun used in the crime was also used in three other robberies committed within the same two-hour time frame. However, Willis had a tight alibi for these crimes and the victims failed to identify him. The same gun was also used in a fourth robbery committed four days prior to the crime. The victims of this robbery identified Willis, but charges against Willis were dropped after DNA evidence from a rape committed during the crime implicated an unknown male who was neither Willis nor the victim's husband. During all five robberies, victims were shot in the leg.

At trial Willis was not allowed to present evidence from any of the other four robberies. The jury who heard the compelling testimony from the murder victim's family quickly convicted him. Willis was sentenced to life plus 90 years imprisonment. In 2005, Willis was granted a new trial on all charges. In 2006, a judge found the Whites' testimony to be inadmissible at the new trial, and upon a joint motion of the defense and the state, the judge dismissed all charges against Willis.

Pecos County, TX 

Ernest Willis

June 11, 1986 (Iraan)

Ernest Ray Willis was convicted of murdering Gail Joe Allison, 25, and Elizabeth “Betsy” Grace Belue, 24. The victims died in a house fire that was ruled an arson. Willis was sentenced to death. Police said Willis acted strangely at the scene of the blaze, and they believed that they found an accelerant in the carpet. Prosecutors used Willis's dazed mental state at trial - the result of state administered medication - to characterize him as “coldhearted” and as a “satanic demon.” Years later, a federal court overturned Willis's conviction after finding that the state had administered medically inappropriate anti-psychotic drugs without Willis's consent; that it had suppressed evidence favorable to Willis; and that Willis received ineffective representation at both the guilt and sentencing phases of his trial.

A new district attorney, Ori T. White then reinvestigated the case. The state's new arson specialist revealed that the “accelerant” initially suspected of causing the fire was in fact “flashover burning,” consistent with electrical fault fires. The state dropped charges against Willis in 2004 and White commented that Willis “simply did not do the crime. ... I'm sorry this man was on death row for so long and that there were so many lost years.” Willis was awarded $430,000 for his time behind bars.  (San Antonio Express-News) (Texas Monthly)  [3/06]

 Cook County, IL

John Willis


John Willis was charged with committing robberies and rapes. Prosecution Lab Technician Pamela Fish testified that forensic tests were inconclusive when they excluded him as the perpetrator. Willis was convicted and sentenced to 100 years of imprisonment. Later when a man named Dennis McGruder was convicted of committing rapes in the same location and with the same modus operendi, Willis was barred from using that evidence to appeal his conviction. DNA tests exonerated Willis in 1999 and implicated McGruder as the perpetrator of Willis's alleged rapes.  (IP)  [5/05]

Maricopa County, AZ

Danny Willoughby

Feb 23, 1991

Daniel Hayden Willoughby was convicted of the murder of his wife, Trish. Trish was murdered while the Willoughby family was on vacation near Puerto Penasco, Mexico. Dan had gone into town with the couple's three children and returned less than two hours later to find his wife had been brutally stabbed and her skull fractured.  (IIPPI)

Madison County, AL

Betty Wilson

May 22, 1992

Betty Wilson and her twin sister, Peggy Lowe, were tried for allegedly hiring handyman, James White to kill Betty's wealthy husband, Dr. Jack Wilson, at the Wilsons' home in Huntsville. White was certifiably mentally ill, diagnosed with delusional schizophrenia. He had spent his life in and out of jail and mental institutions, was an alcoholic, a drug abuser, and a child molester. He was dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Army for stabbing an officer and shooting at his own men.

After making a deal for life in prison for himself, he admitted he had lied about Betty Wilson. The state had acknowledged that without White's testimony there was no case against Betty Wilson. White was not tried until after he testified at both sisters' trials. He has stated that the prosecution coerced him to testify against the sisters by threatening to send him to the electric chair for capital murder. Peggy Lowe was acquitted but Betty was convicted and sentenced to life without parole. The case was profiled on a 48 Hours episode.  (BW)  [5/05]

Blount County, AL

Bill Wilson

Late 1908

In 1908, Bill Wilson's wife, Jenny, divorced and left him. She took their 19-month-old child with her. In 1912, the skeletal remains of an adult and child were discovered by the Warrior River. As news of the discovery spread, many area residents, presuming the remains to be ancient, visited the site in the hope of finding Indian relics.
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Eric Wilson - See Norfolk Four

Douglas County, GA 

Genarlow Wilson

Dec 31, 2003

Genarlow Wilson, a homecoming king, was sentenced to 10 years in Georgia for having consensual oral sex with his underage girlfriend. (He was 17, she was 15.) Citizens were so troubled by the sentence that the state legislature amended its child protection act to reduce the offense to a misdemeanor. However, Wilson remained in jail because lawmakers did not make the change retroactive. In June 2007, a judge ordered Wilson released, citing “a grave miscarriage of justice,” but Wilson remained imprisoned as the state attorney general has vowed to appeal the judge's decision. He was released four months later after the Georgia Supreme Court determined that his sentence constituted cruel and unusual punishment.  (Archives)  [6/07]

Philadelphia County, PA

Harold Wilson

Apr 10, 1988

Harold C. Wilson was convicted of the ax murders of Dorothy Sewell, 64, her nephew, Tyrone Mason, 33, and Mason's girlfriend, Cynthia Goines, 40. The murders occurred in the 1500 block of South Stillman St. in South Philadelphia. Wilson received three death sentences. Wilson was retried in 2003, but the trial resulted in a mistrial. At his third trial in 2005, DNA evidence was presented for the first time. Tests revealed that blood found at the crime scene came from a person other than Wilson or the three victims. The jury deadlocked three times, but then came back with a unanimous verdict. According to Wilson, one could discern from their faces the three jurors who held out. “It was some students on the jury that was studying, was going to a college for DNA.” The jury's verdict was “not guilty” on all charges.

One of the reasons Wilson got a new trial is because a court found that the prosecutor at his first trial, Jack Mahon, had used racial bias to eliminate black jurors. Mahon had made a training video on jury selection in which he advised prosecutors to keep poor blacks off juries. He also said, “You don't want smart people, because smart people will analyze the hell out of your case. They have a higher standard. They hold you up to a higher standard. They hold the courts up to a higher standard, because they are intelligent people. They take those words ‘reasonable doubt,’ and they actually try to think about them. And you don't want those people. Bad luck with teachers, bad luck with social workers, bad luck with – intelligent doctors are bad. I always feel doctors are bad, too.”  (DemocracyNow) (Mahon Video)

Horace Wilson - See Trenton Six

Lawrence County, MO 

Johnny Lee Wilson

Apr 13, 1986 (Aurora)

Johnny Lee Wilson was convicted of the murder of 79-year-old Pauline Martz. Martz had been beaten up, tied, and then burned after her home was set on fire. Wilson, a mentally retarded man, had confessed to the crime after a police interrogation. In 1988, another man, Chris Brownfield, gave a confession to the crime which provided details that corroborated his involvement. Wilson was pardoned and released in 1995.  (U.S. News)  [4/08]

New Hanover County, NC 

Junius Wilson

1925 (Castle Hayne)

After being imprisoned for an alleged attempted rape in 1925, 17-year-old Junius Wilson was declared insane and sent to Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro, a state mental facility. The attempted rape charge was then dropped. In 1932, Wilson was castrated in accordance with state law for “mental defectives and feebleminded inmates” accused of sex crimes. He remained in state custody for 67 years. In 1991, he was found not to be mentally ill, just deaf. In 1992, he was officially freed and within two years he was given a three-bedroom cottage to live in on the grounds of Cherry Hospital. Wilson died in 2001. A 2007 book was published about Wilson entitled Unspeakable: The Story of Junius Wilson.  (Archives)  [4/08]

 Cook County, IL

Robert Wilson

Feb 28, 1997

Robert Wilson was convicted of the attempted murder of June Siler. While waiting at a bus station, a man, for no apparent reason, slashed Siler's throat and face with a box cutter. Siler identified Wilson as her assailant from suggestive police photo lineups, although, at one point, she complained that Wilson was too old to be her assailant. After 30 hours in custody, Wilson signed a confession. He soon recanted the confession and said he signed it because he was sick, police had refused his requests for his heart medicine, and he was scared police would beat him. He said a detective had slapped him.

Wilson's confession did not match the facts of the crime. The confession stated Wilson assaulted Siler because he was smoking a cigar and he became angry when she had complained of the smoke and said he would get cancer. Siler said later her assailant was not smoking a cigar, and there was no discussion about smoking or cancer. “I smoke,” she said. “I wouldn't have said anything like that.”

Siler always had anxiety about whether she helped to convict the right person. Later after Wilson got a new trial, she learned another suspect had been wearing black Velcro shoes that her assailant had been wearing. Siler is now convinced that Wilson was not her assailant and blames police for the mix-up.  (Chicago Tribune) (CWC)  [3/07]

Webster Parish, LA 

Jimmy Wingo

Dec 25, 1982 (Dixie Inn)

Jimmy Wingo was convicted of murdering Newton and Erline Brown after breaking into their Dixie Inn home. Wingo and a co-defendant, Jimmy L. Glass, had escaped the day before from the Webster Parish Jail. Glass testified to the unlikely story that after he had stated Wingo's name within earshot of the Browns, Wingo held a shotgun to his head and forced him to kill the Browns. Centurion Ministries' investigation yielded videotaped recantations by the two main state witnesses who admitted they were coerced by a deputy sheriff into lying at Wingo's trial. A dismissive Louisiana Governor and Board of Pardons rejected this strong evidence. Wingo was executed by electric chair on June 16, 1987.  (CM)  [5/05]

Thomas Winslow - See Nebraska Six

Kharey Wise - See Central Park Five