Louisiana man freed after 44 years in prison; judge says he didn’t get fair trial
AVOYELLES PARISH, La. (KALB/Gray News) - After nearly 45 years in Angola State Penitentiary, Vincent Simmons is a free man. He was convicted in 1977 of the attempted aggravated rape of 14-year-old twin sisters - a crime he said he did not commit.
On Monday, Avoyelles Parish Judge William Bennett granted a new trial at a hearing, a monumental legal feat. During the hearing, Bennett made it clear that Vincent Simmons wasn’t given a fair trial when he was convicted in 1977, KALB reported.
District Attorney Charlie Riddle dismissed the charges against Simmons with the consent of the women, Sharon and Karen Sanders. Riddle said while he believed there was enough evidence to convict Simmons again, “for what purpose” would he make the women go through another trial?
Riddle also reiterated the fact that this decision does not mean Simmons is innocent, saying, “Just in case anyone has any doubt, no, this is not a declaration of innocence at all.”
According to court records, the original trial happened 60 days after the allegation, and Simmons was convicted in a one day nearly 45 years ago.
Bennett granted this motion because of new evidence that came to light after years of Simmons being in prison, namely the photograph of him being in handcuffs during a police lineup and secondly, the medical records of Sharon and Karen Sanders, the twins, that didn’t show any signs of assault, as well as some other testimonies from other witnesses in the case.
The reaction when Judge Bennett granted that motion to retry the case and when Riddle said they would not retry the case was an eruption of joy and cheers from family and friends of Simmons.
Simmons himself was kind of quiet, likely in shock. When asked what kept the faith for him through all those years of being in prison, he said: “God, God kept the faith for me.”
Karen and Sharon Sanders had this to say after the case: “Because we’ve had enough. We’ve fought for 44 years, we’ve had enough. We’ve got 44 years, we’re happy with that. We’re tired. We want it behind us. He went in guilty, he’s still guilty and he’ll die guilty. We’ve got our 44 years, praise God!”
Simmons’ attorney, Justin Bonus, also shared his thoughts after the hearing: “This is the first time he’s ever received justice. And I think Judge Bennett said it on the record, and God used Judge Bennett to cut him loose.”
It’s been a long road to justice, his lawyer explained.
“For 28 years his petitions were being denied. The 16 other years that he was in there, that evidence was being withheld from,” Bonus said.
“Think about that. And what I think people really need to think about is it could be you. It could be you, right?” he said. “People don’t think about that like that. This type of thing could be done to him; you could be framed and in 60 days thrown in prison for 100 years. That is shocking.”
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