Although forensic evidence and testimonies pointed in his favor, he was convicted of a rape he didn't commit and sentenced to life without parole in 1983.
Archie Williams was 22 years old when he was convicted of a rape he didn't commit and sentenced to life without parole in 1983. After the decades-long battle to prove his innocence, he was released 37 years later in March last year. Although he had most of his life stolen from him, finally free at the age of 59, Williams was determined to prove his impressive talents to the world and chose the America's Got Talent stage for his grand debut. Standing before a packed audience and the intimidating panel of judges— Simon Cowell, Heidi Klum, Sofia Vergara, and Howie Mandel—Williams sang his heart out.
Opening up about the day he was arrested, he said: "I couldn't believe it was really happening. I knew I was innocent. I didn't commit a crime. But being a poor black kid, I didn't have the economic ability to fight the state of Louisiana." Although forensic evidence and testimonies pointed in his favor, Williams was sentenced to life in prison. "They wanted somebody to pay," he told the judges and audience. Speaking to host Terry Crews before the show, Williams revealed that music helped him survive. "I never let my mind go to prison," he said, adding that he'd watch the show dreaming of one day being up on the stage himself.
Archie Williams— Uncle T . 🇧🇼 (@Rre_Malabola) May 23, 2020
Spent 36 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Was released last year 2019 ...
The worst that could happen to anyone out there in life .Even in our prison systems, we have those that are wrongly incarcerated 😣. pic.twitter.com/vSXsYueFGz
Williams' case was taken up by the non-profit Innocence Project in the mid-90s. The organization explained on its website that it "fought for decades to get access to evidence that could prove his innocence, including a search of fingerprint evidence in the FBI database. Twenty-four years later, on March 14, 2019, this request was finally granted. Within hours, the fingerprint analysis proved Archie’s innocence and seven days later he was released after all his convictions were vacated and charges dismissed."
Williams' dream of performing on the AGT stage came true in Tuesday night's episode during which he delivered an emotional rendition of Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me." His performance ended with a standing ovation by the audience and all four judges unanimously putting him through to the next round of the competition. With the video of Williams' performance gaining popularity online, it also reached the eyes of Elton John who was blown away by Williams' story and talent. I was moved to tears when I heard Archie's story and saw him perform 'Don’t Let The Sun Go Down on Me.' The courage and forgiveness shown by him are truly inspiring. The same spirit that the world found so inspiring with Nelson Mandela. Love, E xx, the icon tweeted earlier this week.
The performance also had a particularly profound effect on judge Simon Cowell, who has since joined the Innocence Project as an ambassador. "Archie’s performance is probably the single most important one in the history of America’s Got Talent. What happened to Archie is tragic. While Archie’s voice is extraordinary, unfortunately, his experience of being sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit is much more common than most people realize. There are thousands of innocent people in jails and prisons. I’m honored to become an Ambassador for the Innocence Project and want to do what I can to help more people like Archie," he said in a press release.
Did you see Archie Williams’s powerful performance on #AGT last night? We are so humbled to work alongside the amazing team at @innocence who helped prove Archie’s innocence after spending 36 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Read more: https://t.co/ZNjRMRHYK7— Do Big Things (@DoBigThings) May 27, 2020
"Archie’s story is one of courage and hope – and I hope that by knowing more about his story and the Innocence Project, it will encourage more people to support the incredible work they do. These guys don’t just talk; they actually do something about it. The Innocence Project doesn’t just change people’s lives, they save people’s lives," Cowell added. "For them to have stuck with Archie’s case for over 20 years is remarkable. This has really opened my eyes, my family’s eyes, and my friend’s eyes to this. So, I hope some good will come from this."