September 24, 2023

I learned that today is Wrongful Conviction Day. #WrongfulConvictionDay. This is a topic of great significance to me. 2 years ago a young man here on Twitter @jefewill_ who I didn’t know before that day Tweeted about an experience at a Prison that compelled him to look into his father’s Case in Virginia. When Will turned 18 he went to visit his father whom he had seen very few times since he was a child because his father had been incarcerated for murder since he was an infant. When Will got to the prison they literally treated him like a criminal just for trying to see his dad. This situation frustrated him so much and he always had questions about his father’s case. He began to look into his father’s case and he saw glaring holes and a patchwork case that relied on “junk science” and circumstantial “evidence” to paint his father in a bad light.

His Father, a smart brother who had never even had anything more than a speeding ticket in his life, had been holding on to his files for years and was smart enough to upload them to Dropbox years ago. Will (who I will refer to as Lil Will) then found the Dropbox.

I did not do this on impulse. I actually took time and looked at every piece of discovery that @jefewill_ uploaded in the Dropbox. During my time as a trial attorney I have tried and won numerous trials including murder trials with far more “evidence” than what was presented here. I told Lil Will that I’d be willing to help amplify his father’s story. At that time I thought I was going to be writing an article about a man wrongfully convicted, but then @jefewill_ told me that his father wanted to talk to me. And without hesitation I said ok. I’m located in Mississippi. I’m licensed in Mississippi. The only thing I felt I had the power to do to help from Mississippi was use my voice and my platform to help… but I AM an attorney and I was willing to talk to him at least once.

I thought we would talk once. I thought I’d work on a write up to highlight the flaws in the case. I thought I’d be championing the issue from afar… then I met and Talked to “Big Will” for the first time. The best way I can describe this brother is as “A Gentle Giant”. A former college basketball player. He loved to hoop and loves his son.

Big Will Grew up in Richmond Virginia, worked his way out the neighborhood and got a scholarship to school, graduated and took a job working with the state. Big Will has a father who is a very caring and thoughtful man. “Big Big Will”, Lil Will’s grandpa is really invested in seeing his son come home. Three Generations of men impacted. Lil Will was a small child when his father was wrongfully convicted. He is now almost a senior in college. Big Will was in his 20s, he is now in his Mid-40s. Big Big Will was in his late 40s or early 50s. He’s now in his 70s.

The first time Will and I talked over the phone I asked him to tell me his story in the same way I would ask any client walking into my office that has been accused of something. I asked for the truth, I listened for details, I listened for inconsistencies. After a while as an attorney you have a pretty good sense of when your client is lying to you and when they are telling you the truth, and while will was not my client but a man I wanted to help by simply listening to his story and telling it to the world- I heard truth. His truth matched what I saw in the discovery … a case so flawed that I couldn’t fathom how a jury could have been convinced of the accusations except for the fact that he was a giant Black man accused of something heinous in a predominantly white town. Henrico, Virginia.

A screenshot of my first recorded interview with Big Will. Recording from my speaker phone was difficult so we soon graduated to utilizing the Macbook’s phone and recording the conversation. Here are ways you can follow and get involved with The “Free Will” Journey with us

Henrico is the type of place where they don’t say the area code before they give you the phone number. It’s not a place where black men from Richmond go unnecessarily and it was not a place where Big Will was on the night in question. After our first conversation, a 3 hour one. He and I made an agreement to talk again the next day. This time I started using my computer to talk so that I could record the audio better. In 2001, Will had the opportunity to take a plea of 20 years twice – he refused twice because he couldn’t accept something he didn’t do. We talked daily for the next few days. I took notes, referred back to the documented @jefewill_ sent me from the Dropbox and started constructing a timeline. An expected 1 time conversation became an all out nightly strategy session. As my responsibilities began to grow even more in running Black With No Chaser, Eventually Big Will and I agreed to converse on Saturdays.

For the last 2 years I have talked to Big Will almost every Saturday working on his case. Sometimes it feels like… trying to deconstruct a bomb… or trying to reconstruct a heart- the details are important, each move must be both delicate and deliberate. He heard from an organization known for fighting wrongful convictions a few months back & so we are not totally alone in our fight but the big orgs have a lot of cases they are fighting. it’s been mostly Just us 2 fighting from this angle, with our resources & our minds. He is a very bright very positive brother. He has become a mentor to younger brothers inside and is even helping many of them get their GEDs. A lot of men inside look up to him and he’s been a really positive influence on them.

Big Will and I have worked on his case for 2 years and have never seen each other’s faces. But I’ve seen his spirit though. And it’s because his son @jefewill_ had a willingness to speak up.

About 4 months ago I found an expert that is the top expert in the country in the field and he has looked at the evidence that both @jefewill_ and I have been able to provide him. We got some really promising and positive news after 2 years. Game changing news that can materially alter the prosecution’s theory of the case and in fact blow the highly unreliable testimony and “junk science” that they leveraged at trial out of the water. Big will has been waiting for this for 20 years. I haven’t shared very many details about the case here… but I intend to… with all of you that are interested in learning more, helping, offering your time, talent or resources, we would gladly welcome you to the team… we will soon be dropping the “Free Will” Podcast and Vlog on @BeBlackNoChaser and as we get access to the evidence and resources we’ve needed for a few years to both tell his story completely and highlight the significant flaws that existed in this case 20 years ago… the day “Big Will” was convicted in what amounted to a 1 day murder trial where he was represented By someone who, in my opinion did not fight for him with the vigor necessary to compel a rural jury of a 6’8” Black Man’s innocence or the knowledge necessary to combat the prosecution’s reliance on speculation and the ignorance of the jury. We will win. #WrongfulConvictionDay

Here are ways you can follow and get involved with The “Free Will” Journey with us . Stay tuned for updates. We want to make sure he gets to share his story with the world. Peace, Family.

CJ Lawrence is the founder and CEO of Black With No Chaser and an attorney and activist. Find him on Instagram or Twitter.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: