いつ Willie T. ドナルド was in his early 20s, he saw An Innocent Man, NS 1989 crime thriller starring Tom Selleck about a man who was wrongly convicted because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“見た, never thinking it could happen to me,” Donald tells PEOPLE.
Tragically, it did.
On Feb. 27, 1992, a gunman robbed and murdered a man who was on his way home with his family in Gary, Ind. その夜, ドナルド, それから 23, was looking for used cars with family members.
“I was just tagging along,” recalls the soft-spoken Donald, 53. “I wasn’t interacting with the people at the car dealership. I was in the car listening to music.”
数日後, police officers came to Donald’s house saying they were taking him to the police station for failing to show up in court for a traffic violation.
“They placed me in a lineup,” 彼は言います. “I got picked out of the lineup and charged with the crime.”
He worried about losing his job as a shipping clerk at Goldblatt’s Department Store. He had no idea his whole life was about to take a turn for the worse.
4ヶ月後, even though his sister and brother-in-law testified that he was at the car dealership with them, his case went to court. の 1992, Donald was wrongly convicted for murder and armed robbery and sentenced to 60 刑務所での年.
“It was a nightmare,” 彼は言います.
Donald’s heartbreaking story is featured on tonight’s episode of ピープルマガジンが調査. タイトル “Alibi,” the episode airs at 9 午後. ET on Investigation Discovery and also streams on discovery+. (専用クリップを以下に示します。)
長年, Donald tried unsuccessfully to fight his conviction.
それで, NS 2006, the Medill Innocence Project at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, and later the Chicago Innocence Center, took on his case. They revealed that a gang member named Lavelle Thompson, 18, who was later murdered, had actually committed the crimes.
One of the two witnesses who testified against Donald gave a sworn statement in 2009 recanting her identification of him. When trying to identify the suspect in 1992, she had said wasn’t sure Donald was the perpetrator because Donald was bigger and taller than the man she saw.
But the detective told her Donald was the one who committed the crimes and “convinced me that I had picked the right guy,” 彼女は言いました.
の 2016, Donald was finally exonerated. But life was still very difficult for him.
Donald had trouble finding a job. With no money and no savings, he couldn’t buy a car or rent an apartment, so he moved in with his sister and brother-in-law.
“What happens to exonerees like me is what I call double jeopardy,” 彼は言います. “You get punished twice for something you didn’t do.”
Advocacy for Wrongfully Convicted People
Donald’s life changed for the better when he met 博士. Nicky Jackson, an associate criminal justice professor at Purdue University Northwest in Hammond, Ind。, 2月中 2016, shortly after he was released from prison.
Jackson helped him get a part-time job and a car.
の 2020, Jackson started The Willie T. Donald Exoneration Advisory Coalition to connect Donald and others like him with the resources they need to get their lives back on track.
While the government helps prisoners who served time for crimes they committed, ジャクソンは言います, “if you come out of prison in Indiana and probably most states, because you’re innocent, they do nothing for you. 何もない。”
“And there was zero for this man,” ジャクソンは付け加えます. “And it was by the grace of God that he had his family. That’s all exonerees have is family.”
Jackson was upset when she learned that Donald’s father died while he was in prison. “That was one of the hardest things for him,” 彼は言います. “So he wasn’t able to comfort his mother and his sisters. He wasn’t able to go to the funeral. These are experiences and life events that you can never repay this man for. So I wanted to make some changes.”
そして彼女はしました, improving Donald’s life and then teaming up with him to help other wrongfully convicted people.
長年にわたって, the two have formed a strong bond.
“I am grateful to Miss Jackson for all the time and effort she put into helping me,” says Donald.
“It takes a person with a big heart to do that.”
Jackson was happy to help Donald, who has become a close friend. “Our friendship is something I cherish,” 彼女が言います. “I know there’s this man who truly cares about me and my family. そしてそのために, I will forever be grateful. And I think through our friendship, there’s been a lot of great things that have happened as a result of our friendship.”
See more of Willie T. Donald’s story (“Alibi”) オン ピープルマガジンが調査, で今夜放送 9 午後. 調査ディスカバリーの ET およびディスカバリー + のストリーミング.