Archie Williams spent almost four decades in Louisiana prison for crimes he didn’t commit. He was wrongfully convicted of rape and stabbing, but he held on to his dream of one day appearing on America’s biggest stage – “America’s Got Talent.”
Williams was freed last spring after serving 37 years, and he is fulfilling one of his biggest dreams of singing on “America’s Got Talent.” The NBC reality competition’s latest season premieres Tuesday evening with Williams among the contestants.
A video of his audition went viral after it was shared on social media last week. In the video, he described how he would watch “America’s Got Talent” while in prison and dream of appearing on the stage one day.
“I would visualize myself being there,” he said. “I always desired to be on a stage like this, and now I’m here. Thank God. I know it’s the chance of a lifetime.” He wowed the entire audience with his voice.
Williams was sentenced to life without parole for the 1982 rape and stabbing of a woman at her Baton Rouge home after the victim identified him in a photographic lineup, despite almost no other evidence supporting his guilt.
Williams was just 22 years old when he was arrested for someone else’s crime. He said his mother, sister and a family friend all testified that he was at home asleep at the time the attack occurred.
“At the trial, none of the fingerprints at the scene matched mine. Three people testified that I was at home, but they wanted somebody to pay,” Williams told the AGT judges.
“I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole or probation. I was sent to Angola State Penutentuary, classified as the bloodiest prison in the United States. Days turned into weeks and into months and into decades. It was like a nightmare.”
“I couldn’t believe it was really happening,” Williams said. “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.”
After 12 years in prison, Williams reached out to the Innocence Project. They sought DNA testing for Williams in 1996 when it became forensically available but had to wait for the law.
In 2009, male DNA in the victim’s rape kit did not match Williams, but the state opposed his efforts to search the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) for a possible suspect, according to Daily Mirror.
Commissioner Kimble insisted that the fingerprints be submitted into the database in March 2019 and that led to a discovery of rapist, Stephen Forbes, who had committed similar sexual assaults in the same neighbourhood. He was exonerated after new fingerprint technology matched another man to the crimes.
During the AGT audition, teary Williams revealed that he managed to keep his mind free. “Freedom is of the mind. I went to prison but I never let my mind go to prison. When you are faced with dark times, what I would do is pray and sing. This is how I got peace”, he said.
“There are many innocent people at Angola – guys who have served over 50 years. I’m happy to be cleared finally, but I’m not free until they are free,” Williams, who is still fighting for justice, said.
Williams sang Elton John’s classic “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” His performance left four judges in awe including Simon Cowell who said “Archie, I will never, ever listen to that song in the same way ever again after you sang that. It took on a whole new meaning for me.”
Cowell told Williams that he has a really good voice, adding that “this is an audition I will never forget for the whole of my life.”
This is Archie Williams. I will never forget this audition for the rest of my life. And I’ll never listen to this song in the same way ever again. pic.twitter.com/UCco7OwdGx— Simon Cowell (@SimonCowell) May 22, 2020