Deepest Midnight: Cedric Willis and The Failure of Mississippi Justice

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"Cedric, wake up. Cedric, the police want to see you."

Cedric Willis, then 19, stirred in his bed and looked up at his grandmother Sally. She had the smooth, dark skin of a woman 20 years younger, and her black hair, cropped short, rested atop her head like a crown. Bright beams of morning sunshine illuminated her through the blinds.

Two men in dark suits were in the doorway of his bedroom. One was an older white man, his hand already reaching for his belt, and the other was a tall African-American man with glasses and a goatee. Cedric knew him. He was Ned Garner. Detective Ned Garner.

"Cedric Willis, you have the right to remain silent," Garner said. Cedric stood, and the white detective spun him around, clamping handcuffs down on his wrists.

"Cedric Willis, you are charged with aggravated assault, rape, robbery and the murder of Carl White."

Cedric's grandmother gasped and put her hand to her mouth, her face convulsed with disbelief.

"You all got the wrong man," Cedric pleaded over his shoulder. "I didn't have nothing to do with anything like that."

The detectives rooted through Cedric's dresser and the clothes on the floor, searching for the murder weapon. It did not take them long to go through his spare belongings. No weapon. They turned him toward the door and escorted him out into the kitchen.

"Put me in a line-up," Cedric said. "Let these people see me, because they'll know I didn't do this."

As they came into the living room, Cedric's little sister Alana, who was 7 and dressed in a long t-shirt, burst into tears. His cousin Ryan, 8, stared down at the floor.

The living room was full of antique furniture that his grandmother had insisted they cover in plastic. Too many kids with too many drinks to spill, she said.

"Listen," Cedric said as the detectives pulled him toward the door, "can I put some shoes on before you take me?" He was still wearing what he had worn to bed: just a white t-shirt and black cloth shorts.

Ryan ran to Cedric's room and returned with socks and shoes. Because Cedric was cuffed, he dropped into a chair and Ryan knelt at his feet, pulling one sock and then the other over his feet. Then Ryan forced on Cedric's Air Nikes and tied the strings carefully.

The detectives helped Cedric up and pushed him toward the door. He looked back at his sister, who was wailing on the floor, and his grandmother, whose hand still covered her mouth.

"Don't worry," Cedric said. "I'll be right back."

The detectives escorted him out into the blinding light of a June morning. It was already hot and muggy. The detectives pushed Cedric down into the back seat of their car and then drove toward the jail downtown.

"You gotta let these people see me," Cedric insisted from the back seat. "Get me in front of these people so they know I didn't do this."

It was June 24, 1994. It would be more than 12 years before Cedric would return home to his family, after he was exonerated of all charges against him, on March 6, 2006. By then, his little sister Alana was 19 years old. His grandmother had long since passed, in 2001.

'I Can Go, Right?'

On June 12, a husband and wife had pulled into their driveway on Queen Eleanor Street at close to 2 a.m. As they got out of the car, a lone African-American male approached them brandishing a handgun and demanded money. When the husband hesitated, the assailant shot him in the right leg, and the bullet passed through to penetrate his left leg as well. The perpetrator then demanded money from the wife, but she had none. "Well, since you don't have any money, I'll have to get it some other way," the man said. He took her behind a tree in the front yard and brutally raped her. "I could have killed both y'all," the man said as he left.

Four days later, the perpetrator went on a spree. He robbed four families in a single night, on June 16. His methods were always the same. He approached victims in their driveways. He shot the men in the leg and stole whatever was quick and easy. He did not rape any women that night, but one of the men he shot in the leg, Carl White Jr., died of his wounds.

The rapist had become a murderer.

Now it was June 24, and the police had their man: Cedric Willis. It was true that he did not match the description of the perpetrator that victims had given to police. Cedric was 60 pounds heavier, several inches shorter and possibly a different skin tone. But he was their man.

In the line-up room, all the other men in the room were wearing green-and-white jail fatigues, since they had already been processed. Cedric was the only one in street clothes, the same t-shirt and shorts he had worn to bed the night before he was arrested. The police let the men choose numbers for where they would stand in the line. They told Cedric he would be in position one.

Cedric and the other men filed into a narrow room with a large, one-way sheet of glass. They turned at an officer's prompting, and each read the murderer's words from a piece of paper.

"Is that all your money?" Cedric read in a monotone when it was his turn.

On the other side of the glass were members of the White family, the rape victim and several victims of the robberies of June 16, all studying the men together, coming to a decision. Then the witnesses were escorted from the room and asked separately whether the man who had assaulted them was in the lineup. None of the other robbery victims could identify Cedric, but both the Whites and the rape victim identified Cedric.

Meanwhile, Cedric waited, eager to be cleared. When the police entered his room, he hopped up.

"So I can go, right?" he asked.

The police held out a pair of green and white fatigues.

Little Bozo

Born June 3, 1975, Cedric Demond Willis was a rambunctious, carefree child. "He wasn't an average baby that slept all the time," his mother, Elayne, says. He was so full of energy that when he was a toddler, Elayne's sister took to calling the boy "Bozo," because he bounced off the walls and stood on top of his head. Elayne did not like the nickname, but it stuck. Cedric did not seem to mind.

Elayne had Cedric when she was only 17, near the house where she and Cedric live today, on Vardaman Street. She had Cedric out of wedlock, though Cedric always knew his father, who was his mother's high school sweetheart.

His mother lived with her mother. Elayne's people had moved to Jackson from Grenada in the 1940s, fleeing a share-cropping operation called the "Cooley Plantation." Like so many rural African Americans, the lure of real wages and urban freedom, however circumscribed, drew her grandmother to Jackson. Like so many African-American women, she was on the run from an abusive man. Two generations later, the family was still struggling to escape poverty.

Elayne taught Cedric to stand up to bullies. As a young boy, he would run home crying because other boys were picking on him. She told him to go back and stand up for himself. "If you get your tail whipped, that's fine, but at least you're not running home crying. Once you've stood up and fought, you don't have to worry about that person anymore. You run and they're going to chase you," she remembers telling him.

The family moved several times during Cedric's childhood, once because their house, which they rented for $250, was literally falling apart around them, and the landlord refused to pay for repairs. There were more kids Cedric's age in their new neighborhood, midtown in Queens, and they zipped up and down Flag Chapel and the streets of Presidential Hill on their bikes. They gathered every day to play football, and though Cedric was smaller than most of the other boys, he ran so fast that few ever caught and tackled him. Cedric played for Green Elementary as running back and linebacker, and dreamed of one day going professional.

Those dreams were dashed by the time he reached junior high. When he was 7, Cedric had developed epilepsy, like his grandfather before him, and he could no longer play football. By the time Cedric entered Provine High School, he had lost his way. He always in trouble at school, usually for fighting with other boys. "There was so much crap going on over there," Elayne says of Provine. "That principal called me every day. I thought, what's going on over at that school that my son is getting into fights every day?"

Cedric admits that he started running the streets, selling drugs, and he never graduated from high school. When he turned 18, however, everything began to change. Cedric never carried a weapon or engaged in violence, but a close friend of his was shot in the head and robbed. "He had just called me and told me he was on his way to pick me up," Cedric says, "but then he never came. Somebody robbed him and killed him. He was like a father to me. And I thought, 'I was supposed to be in that car with him.'"

Soon, Cedric got a steady job doing construction with his Uncle Larry. When he found out that his long-time girlfriend, Tiffany, was pregnant, he renounced the street for good. "I knew I was gonna have to support my family," Cedric says.

Tiffany had become pregnant at 17, just like Cedric's mother. Cedric says neither of them understood birth control or even took seriously the possibility that they could make a baby. "We were young," Cedric says now. "We were doing something we had no business doing."

They didn't marry, but Tiffany moved in with Cedric's family. They all shared one bedroom, with Cedric and Tiffany in one twin bed and Elayne and Alana in another.

Cedric's son C.J. was born at 11:15 p.m. on June 11, 1994, just two hours before Cedric allegedly robbed and raped the first victims. Cedric handed out cigars to his relatives, and he kept declaring: "I got a son. I got a son."

The young father had insisted on watching the entire delivery, and he mocked men who were too squeamish to welcome their offspring into the world. Elayne did not really believe him when Cedric told her he wanted to be there through the whole delivery, but he stayed in the room as he had pledged. When the nurses asked Cedric if he would like to hold C.J., at first he refused.

"I was scared I was going to hurt him," Cedric says. "Then I held him, and he looked so small. He wasn't even crying. He was an arm baby." That is, he could hold him on one arm. "I got to change him one time before they took me away."

'God, Keep Me'

"Cedric," Tiffany sobbed into the phone, "have you read the newspaper?"

"What's wrong?" Cedric asked. He was in his green and white fatigues, talking to Tiffany collect on one of the phones mounted on the wall by the showers in the county jail.

"Cedric, they say if they convict you," Tiffany continued in tears, "they're going to give you the lethal injection. They're going to kill you."

"No," Cedric said, trying to hide the terror blooming in his heart, "that ain't going to happen."

Cedric was indicted on Oct. 11, 1994, on charges of aggravated assault, rape, robbery and murder, though he would spend the next three years in jail, waiting for his trial to begin. He was denied bail because he had been charged with capital murder. There was nothing Cedric could do but wait, his fate held in suspension.

While in jail awaiting trial, his only comfort was visits from his mother, Tiffany and his young son, along with a tattered, yellow-paged Bible his mother Elayne had brought him. He had never taken religion very seriously, but now he prayed in earnest for the first time in his life. As he followed newspaper accounts of the atrocities he had allegedly committed, he plunged into despair, and prayed every day and every night. God, keep my family, he prayed. God, keep me.

Without proper medication, Cedric had frequent seizures in jail. The guards accused him of faking the seizures because he was mad about being in jail. They told him that he would have to have three seizures in a row before they would call for an ambulance. "Jail is the worst place in the world to get sick at," Cedric says.

Cedric had already volunteered to give a blood sample, so his DNA could be tested against the rapist's, but the results were not ready by the time he was indicted. DNA analysis took much longer in 1994 than it does today.

When the DNA test results came in, they showed unequivocally that Cedric Willis could not have been the rapist. The police tested Cedric's DNA again in disbelief, but the results were the same. Cedric could not have committed the rape, and prosecutors had to drop all related charges.

Nevertheless, the prosecution, led by then-District Attorney Ed Peters and Assistant D.A. Bobby DeLaughter, proceeded with the murder indictment. They also moved to have the rape evidence excluded from the trial, despite the fact that it cast significant doubt on whether Cedric was the murderer; witnesses had given consistent descriptions of the assailant. Ballistics testing showed that the same weapon had been used in all the crimes. Hinds County Circuit Judge William Coleman ruled against the prosecution, allowing the defense to argue that Cedric's exoneration of the rape cast significant doubt on whether he had committed any of the crimes. The prosecution argued that the weapon might have been passed from the rapist to Cedric over the intervening four days.

Then, before the trial was set to begin, Coleman retired from the bench, and Cedric's case was reassigned to freshly appointed Judge Breland Hilburn. Without any new evidence, prosecutors again moved to exclude any mention of the rape from the trial. This time, Hilburn agreed.

"Technically, you're not supposed to do that," current D.A. Faye Peterson says, "unless you've got some new information that wasn't presented before. … It's called forum shopping."

"It's certainly odd that he would do this," Emily Maw, an attorney with the Innocence Project, says. "There wasn't a reason to think that Judge Coleman's previous ruling was wrong. If there is evidence that someone else was committing a similar crime in the vicinity at the time, and it could not have been you, the courts are clear that you can always present evidence that someone else committed the crimes."

The prosecution filed further motions to exclude evidence. Cedric had an alibi for the other three robberies committed June 16, and in any case, none of those victims had chosen Cedric from the lineup. Although each robbery followed the same M.O.—approaching victims in their driveways and shooting the men in the leg, with the same weapon—the prosecution moved that no mention of the other robberies be allowed in Cedric's trial.

The judge agreed.

Bobby Delaughter, now a Hinds County circuit judge running for re-election, did not return calls for comment on this story. Peters could not be reached for comment.

The prosecution had only one real piece of evidence against Cedric: the eye-witness identification by Gloria White and her two children. There were no fingerprints, no weapon and no DNA. Moreover, there were serious problems with the Whites' identification.

For one, the rape victim had identified Cedric, but DNA evidence showed that this identification had to be mistaken. This alone cast doubt on the Whites' identification, because the same process led to a confirmed false result. Prosecutors moved that the defense be barred from presenting this false identification to the jury, and Hilburn agreed.

There were also serious questions about the protocols police used in both the live lineup and the photo lineup. When police show witnesses a photo lineup, they take notes on who appeared in it and log that into evidence, so they can re-create it later, if necessary. However, police were unable to produce any notes on the lineup, and the only photo they were ever able to find was one of Cedric.

"No one knows whether there even was a photo lineup," Maw says. "If there was, no one knows who it contained, whether they looked like Cedric or not. It could have been Cedric and three white guys. But there's good reason to think that they just showed witnesses a photo of Cedric and asked, 'Is this the guy?'"

"If they just showed (witnesses) a photo, that totally taints the identification," Peterson says. "The crime occurred maybe a week or two prior. There is ample evidence that an identification can be misleading when time has passed, especially when you're dealing with a stressful situation, and the felon is a stranger. Later on, when the police show the victim a single photo, unfortunately it is very easy for them to say 'yes,' even if they're uncertain. Then if they see the same person in a live line-up, he's the only person who's the same."

Still, prosecutors moved that problems with the photo lineup be excluded from the trial. Hilburn agreed.

Police did take notes on who appeared in the live lineup with Cedric—and not only did none of them look anything like the perpetrator, none of them looked anything like Cedric. "They were so dissimilar from Cedric Willis that it was amazing," Peterson says.

Also, police allowed all the witnesses to view the lineup at the same time, which violates procedure because even though witnesses made their IDs separately, they may have unwittingly influenced each other as they stared at Cedric through the glass. Witnesses are supposed to view lineups separately, and the suspect is supposed to be moved from one position to another between witnesses, just to be sure the identification is real. The witnesses saw Cedric all at once, in position one.

'The Man's A Killer'

When the trial finally started, in July 1997, in the Hinds County Courthouse, Cedric sat at his table in a new gray suit his mother had bought him for the trial. She sat behind him, dressed in casual dark slacks and a t-shirt. "It was agonizing, sitting in there listening to those lies," Elayne says. "I was too exhausted to go dressed up."

Cedric's new attorney, James Winfield of Vicksburg, sat at his side. Cedric had fired the public defender assigned to his case and hired a private attorney he thought could put in more time. Friends of the family helped pay Winfield's bills.

The courtroom was severe and ostentatious, covered in dark wood and the various banners and insignia of the law. Hilburn sat in black robes, his expression unreadable behind a sandy-brown beard.

Cedric tried to stay unemotional for his mother. He knew that if he broke down and cried in the courtroom, she would not be able to maintain her composure. But he had begun to despair. As members of the police and the White family took the stand to proclaim Cedric's guilt to the jury, Cedric could only shake his head.

"The man's a killer," Delaughter declared vehemently at one point in the trial, provoking an objection from the defense. "That's what he is."

Meantime, Cedric's thoughts turned toward the darkness.

"This judge is going to do it to me. They're going to throw me away." He tried to keep his focus on God, but negative thoughts kept coming into his head. And panic. They're going to throw me away. There was a war inside his head. He began to realize he would be convicted. "Oh Lord, please no," he prayed.

As DeLaughter told the story of how Cedric supposedly locked the Whites' daughter in the trunk of their car before he went into the house on Michael Clay Boulevard and shot and robbed, Cedric could see certainty of his guilt hardening in the faces of the jury.

The jury was never allowed to hear that the DNA from the rape excluded Cedric from a prior armed robbery. They never heard that there were four other robberies on the same night of the murder, committed with the same weapon. None of those robbery victims picked Cedric out of a lineup, but the jury never heard about these victims at all. They did not hear that the photo lineup was never logged into evidence, that police may have shown witnesses a photo of Cedric alone. They never heard that the description of the perpetrator did not match Cedric.

The jury did hear the Whites make a positive identification of Cedric. It was enough.

The jury delivered its verdict on Thursday, Sept. 11, 1997. They had deliberated throughout the previous day, and Cedric took the delay as a hopeful sign. As the judge ordered Cedric to rise, his heart was pounding. The foreman read out the first charge for robbery, and said that the jury had found Cedric guilty. There was a wail from Cedric's family and exclamations of triumph from the Whites. Cedric looked back at his mother, and his heart lurched to see her sobbing out of control, along with his grandmother and sister. Cedric held back his tears to give his mother strength, but as the foreman read charge after charge and pronounced Cedric guilty on each count, he hung his head. My life is over, he thought. He was only 22.

The next day, Cedric was sentenced to life plus 90 years. The three 30-year sentences were consecutive, so that if Cedric somehow earned parole on his life sentence and one 30-year sentence, he would still face 60 years.

Welcome to Parchman

Now a guilty man, Cedric was transferred to Rankin County for processing. They took blood from him and ran a battery of tests for disease. They shaved his head. A week later, Cedric boarded a white school bus with metal grates over the windows. He was headed to the state prison at Parchman to begin serving his life sentence plus 90 years.

The journey took two hours, and Cedric gazed out at the other cars on the road, full, he thought, of happy families off to see their relatives. He wore red-and-white-striped prison clothes, his head bald, on a bus full of men who had been convicted of rape and murder. He would never be like the people in those cars again.

The bus drove on into the tropical September heat of the Delta, through fields of corn and cotton, just 40 miles west of the old Cooley Plantation. As the bus pulled up to Parchman, Cedric marveled that there were hardly any trees, only distant, green blurs on the heat-warped horizon.

Parchman began as a slave plantation; it was not turned into a prison farm until 1901. But there had been no need to house prisoners in 1875, when the Democratic Legislature passed laws virtually identical to the notorious "Black Codes" of 1865, which had been set aside by Reconstruction in 1867. These crimes were specific to "the free negro" alone, and included mischief, insulting gestures, mistreatment of animals and drinking alcohol. The convict population quadrupled in just a few years, and convicts were soon "leased" out to plantations as free labor. Whites no longer owned blacks—they leased them.

Mississippi pioneered convict leasing, and it was one of the last states to end the practice. It finally did so in 1901, under Gov. James K. Vardaman, who argued that a prison farm run "like an efficient plantation" would provide young African Americans with "proper discipline, strong work habits and respect for white authority." Thus, Parchman was born.

Parchman has 18,000 acres of fields planted with crops ranging from cotton to pumpkins tended by 5,000 prisoners. By 1930, Parchman generated the state more than $1 million in annual revenue. In 2004, Parchman produced 3.5 million pounds of vegetables. The 6 million eggs Parchman produced alone were worth $453,455.

Today, 70 percent of Parchman's prisoners are African American, though only 37 percent of Mississippi's population is black.

The prison itself is an enormous camp surrounded by high metal fences topped with razor wire. Guards in towers cradle rifles, high over the assortment of old stone buildings and newer cell blocks. A tall, central tower is mounted with spotlights that cast light down in every direction at night. There is no escape from the towers' gaze.

Cedric's bus made its rounds in the camp, disgorging most of its prisoners at Camp 29, which houses general population prisoners. It took him to Camp 32, which is where prisoners in solitary confinement and those on death row are housed. Parchman employs a point system that weighs factors such as the prisoner's age, the amount of time he has and his number of prior offenses. Even though Cedric had not yet had the opportunity to get into fights or resist guards, he was automatically consigned to solitary, which meant that he would spend 23 hours of every day alone in his cell.

The guards took Cedric into B building and up the stairs to tier five. There was a loud buzz of prisoners talking, rapping and shouting, even though all of them were alone in their cells. The guards stopped him at an open cell and uncuffed his shackles. The bars slid shut. The cell was long and narrow, approximately 8 by 16 feet. On one end, a concrete slab rose from the floor and held a white mattress. Next to it was a concrete shelf prisoners could use as a desk, along with a stool. A toilet sat next to the door, with a sink built in above and behind it. The walls were painted beige, but prisoners had long since scratched cabalistic gang signs and obscene sentiments into the paint. Cedric, dressed in a white t-shirt and his new striped pants, sat on his mattress and opened his Bible to Job 16.

Men open their mouths to jeer at me, they strike my cheek in scorn and unite together against me. God has turned me over to evil men and thrown me into the clutches of the wicked.

Cedric would spend the next five years in solitary confinement. He had no visitors—he insisted that his mother not visit because she had so little money for gas, and it seemed pointless to Cedric because she would only be able to visit for an hour. Instead, Cedric called her once a week. He was completely alone.

The prisoner spent most of every day alone in his cell, reading the Bible, struggling with despair. He spent long hours pouring over the Book of Daniel, praying for God's protection. More than any other, he read the Book of Job.

Job is the story of a dispute between God and Satan in which Satan claims that Job is only a faithful servant because God has protected and nurtured him. To prove Job's righteousness, God allows Satan to torment Job with every horror that can befall a man, from having his family killed to losing his property to becoming afflicted with sores. Job's laments take up much of the book, as he pleads with God for mercy, protesting his innocence. Former friends of Job jeer at his arrogance and argue that he must be guilty of something, or God would not allow him to suffer. Eventually, God restores Job and punishes those who doubted his innocence.

"The Book of Job kept me sane," Cedric says now, sitting back in his Vardaman Street home. "It was like the angel had already been sent from God with my salvation. He just hadn't arrived, yet."

'You Still Have a Soul'

Every day, Cedric struggled.

"There were times he called me from prison and said he just wanted to break down and cry," Elayne says. "I told him, 'Son, there's nothing wrong with a grown man crying. That lets you know you still have a soul, and you wish things were better. You can cry for that. You still have feelings—they didn't take that away from you, so if you need to cry, do it. You have no business sitting up there trying to be strong for nobody but yourself.'"

Lights-out came every night at 10 p.m., and then the cell block became very dark, illuminated only by the spotlights outside and a few sparse lamps over the walkways. The cell block echoed with prisoners' conversations. Cedric would lie on the floor, struggling to read his Bible in the darkness, or he would write letters to his family, his face held just above the paper.

As Cedric struggled, he awaited word on his appeal. Right after the trial ended, his attorney, Winfield, had filed for a direct appeal, which are usually ruled upon within two weeks. Hilburn heard the appeal, but he would not rule on it for another 12 years. Until Cedric received that ruling, he could not file for any post-conviction appeals, because the trial itself was not yet closed.

As a result, Cedric lived in legal limbo, stuck between steps in the system, in solitary at Parchman. The problem was compounded when Winfield withdrew as Cedric's attorney because Cedric's family could no longer pay him. Shortly later, Winfield died.

Cedric spent the next 12 years in prison while Mississippi's criminal justice system sorted out a bureaucratic error.

An 'Affront' to Decency

Parchman has a long history of prisoner abuse. In 1970, civil rights attorney Roy Haber began to document widespread abuses there, including rape and murder. In 1972, U.S. District Judge William Keady ruled in Gates v. Collier that Parchman "was an affront to 'modern standards of decency,'" and he ordered broad reforms, among them ending the practice of making lifers "trusties," who carried shotguns, guarded other inmates and were paid based on how ruthlessly they kept their crews working.

More recently, in 2003, U.S. District Judge Jerry A. Davis ruled in favor of a prisoner on death row. Prisoners were regularly transferred to cells that were in a shambles, with feces and food smeared on the walls. They had no access to cleaning supplies. There was no heat in the winter and no air conditioning in the summer. The temperature inside cells routinely exceeded 100 degrees, and prisoners' only relief came from one small, slatted window. Opening that window let in legions of mosquitoes, because the screens covering the windows had rips. Prisoners had no access to ice, and they were only taken to the showers twice a week.

Cedric says that in the summer, prisoners stripped to their boxers and lay on the concrete floor for relief from the heat. The prison sold inmates ancient, rattling box fans for $24, but then the prison seized the fans because prisoners turned them into weapons.

Then there were the ping-pong toilets where "fecal and other matter flushed in one cell will bubble up in the other cell unless the toilets are flushed simultaneously," as Davis described it in court documents.

"When I was first in there, one time I looked over at my toilet in the morning, and I said, 'Man, I know I didn't do that,'" Cedric says. It was not unusual for toilets to overflow and disgorge feces into prisoners' cells. "I remember one time it was backed up so bad that feces came up through the shower. The whole shower was full of it. I can't even tell you what it smelled like in there."

The food was so bad that Cedric could hardly bring himself to eat it on many days. Prisoners prepared the food, and they were always in a rush to get through with work. Old bologna sandwiches would be turned into watery bologna stew. Chicken came out so undercooked that it was still bloody and red in the middle.

"It ain't like you can take it back and say, 'Hey, this needs to be cooked some more,'" Cedric says. Prisoners who could afford it bought their own food from the prison's canteen.

Maw says that Parchman is actually far worse than the legendary penitentiary at Angola, La. "At Angola, they bring in motivational speakers," Maw says.

"They have long-timers' day at Angola, where everyone who has served more than 25 years gets a big banquet. It's awful, because all of these people are locked up for life without parole, but there's community. In Parchman, it's just bleak. There's none of that. Nothing that humanizes people at all or gives them any opportunity to be a community."

'It Was a Real Blade'

After five years, in late 2001, Cedric was finally transferred from solitary to the general population at Camp 29.

"We called Camp 29 at Parchman Castle Grayskull," Cedric says. "It was always going down over there. The ambulance stayed in 29. It was the throw-away camp."

In the camp, violence erupted without warning and left men clutching at bleeding necks, while other prisoners scrambled out of the way. In 1990, there were more than 2,000 assaults in Camp 29 alone.

Prisoners routinely sharpened their shivs on the concrete in their cells. "Sometimes it sounded like a blacksmith in there. All you could hear was people hammering on their knives and sharpening them," Cedric says.

Also from scraps, prisoners fashioned picks that would unlock handcuffs. One day, Cedric watched as two handcuffed prisoners talked to a third who was also in cuffs. Suddenly, the cuffs fell away from the two men, and they were stabbing the other prisoner in the chest and neck. "They sharpened them on both sides until they looked like Rambo knives. It was a real blade," Cedric says.

For exercise, the guards released prisoners into the yard with their hands still cuffed behind their backs. They would have to hold their hands back through the bars for the guards to unlock their cuffs. Those few seconds of helplessness were more than enough time for a prisoner who had hidden a knife to run up and sink it into your belly.

"They called it 'bar fighting,'" Cedric says. "If someone wants to get you, it's over with, and the guards don't care. They're not going to run in there to save you, especially when those boys have knives in there."

There was a narrow hall leading into the cafeteria in Camp 29's K building, with gates on either end. If a prisoner pulled a knife, there was nowhere to run, no room to maneuver. Once, Cedric remembers, prisoners in the hall were splattered with a victims' blood.

Even just walking down the hall could be perilous. "If you had a problem with somebody, and they couldn't get you, they'd wait for you to walk by their cell when the guards took you to the shower," Cedric says. Prisoners would take apart the electrical sockets in their cells and use pilfered wiring to make a "stinger." They would tie wiring around screws, and then drop the screws in a bucket of water. The current brought the water to a quick boil.

A determined inmate could wait in his cell, watching with a mirror for his enemy. Prisoners made their own mirrors by stretching cellophane thin and tight over tins of chewing tobacco, which they also used to pass messages up and down the cell blocks. Cedric saw men get hit with buckets of boiling water many times. Prisoners added oatmeal, feces or chemicals to the water to enhance the effect. Once, a prisoner threw boiling water on a guard. When they peeled off the guard's shirt, his skin came away with it.

"You have people in prison who are just evil," Cedric says. "They did wrong, and they got locked up, and now the world won't deal with them anymore. But we had to."

Cedric admits that he was not a model prisoner, though he tried to avoid trouble. "If you carry yourself right, nine times out of 10, you'll get respect," Cedric says. "But sometimes, it doesn't matter. I've seen a man get his throat cut open over a pack of noodles. The first time you show a sign of weakness when you're in prison, then you'll be dealing with it the rest of the time you're there. Those guys who let someone take their stuff, it becomes a constant thing. Their lives become miserable. I've seen guys doing real bad."

"But if you go after the guy who's trying to steal from you, then people will leave you alone, because they know you'll fight," Cedric says. "A lot of them don't want to fight, but they try to be bad, hoping that the man will be scared so he can play him like that. I thought, 'My mama worked too hard to send me this stuff for you to take it from me.'"

Cedric says that the best way to survive a place like Parchman is to make trusted friends. "There's good people in prison, too," Cedric says. "I kept with people who were trying to go home, that wanted to go home even though they had all that time. People who didn't just say, 'This is my life, right here.' They always had hope that some day something could happen for them. I surrounded myself by positive-thinking people, and we would look out for each other."

Cedric says his friends rarely discussed the time they had left to serve, and he never asked anyone why they had been sent to prison. "It hurts to talk about the fact that you have all of this time. You tell someone you got a life sentence plus 90 years, they look at you different," Cedric says.

"The whole time in there, I tried to stay focused on one thing: Bozo," Cedric continues. "You have to stay focused so you mind your own business. You don't borrow anything from anyone in the penitentiary if you want to make it, because it tends to go somewhere else. My friends and I would help each other. Ask me and you can have it, but don't take it."

He Had a Knife

The prisoners weren't the only dangers at Parchman. "You've got nice guards, and then you've got troublemakers," Cedric says. "Some were just decent people. They were there to do their job, and if you didn't give them trouble, they treated you all right. But some guards, it's like the job wasn't enough for them. They had to bring something else."

Cedric remembers a pervasive culture of corruption among the guards. The prison had video cameras to monitor violence, but they did little good because they were not taped, and the guards who were supposed to watch them often played cards or slept on the couch in the back of the video room. For months, the prison would be filthy and full of violations, but then the guards would hear over their walkie-talkies that inspectors were coming. They would correct the worst offenses before the inspectors arrived, Cedric says.

Sometimes, Cedric became very ill because the guards failed to bring him the medication he takes for his epilepsy. Some guards would talk through the night and only sign the sheet saying they gave out medications. There were nights when Cedric suffered seizures, and other prisoners would bang their shoes on the metal plates at the top of their cell doors to get the guards' attention.

Abuses by guards went well beyond neglect, however. There were prisoners called "writ-writers" who would help other prisoners request cases for their appeals. "If you got a good writ-writer," Cedric says, "his name starts to ring around the prison. People hear he might be able to help with a case. When the guards hear about it, they think that this guy is a threat. So they lie. They would write up writ-writers for bogus stuff just to get thrown into the hole."

"Two-thirds of prisoners in Mississippi are functionally illiterate, and you can't request cases until you have an active case number," Maw says. "You can't get a case number until you make your post-conviction appeal. To make that appeal, you have to list cases, but you can't request cases to study because you don't have an active case number. It's a total catch-22."

Some guards went beyond harassment to violence. Both male and female guards routinely struck shackled prisoners without provocation. Cedric says that such abuses are commonplace, and are tolerated and/or perpetrated by officials all the way up the chain of command.

"They can cover a man's murder up," Cedric continues. "I was locked up for armed robbery and murder. They already saw me as a violent man. So if they killed me, the guards would justify my murder, and no more would be said about it because I'm already locked up for a murder. All they had to do was say he had a knife, coming at me, and we had to do this. And that's it."

Old-timers told Cedric that Parchman has improved. Thirty years ago, they told him, guards would simply bury murdered prisoners in the farm's peach orchards.

The Mississippi Department of Corrections did not respond to requests for comment on the allegations of abuse.

'I Am Innocent'

One day in 1998, when Cedric was still in solitary, he sat alone in his cell reading an issue of Vibe Magazine. His mother sent him magazines to read, but there were never enough. So Cedric read his magazines from front to back, from the feature articles to the tiny ads in back. That was where he first heard of the Innocence Project. He sat at his high concrete desk and wrote the project a letter.

"I don't have any money for an attorney and my family doesn't," Cedric wrote. "I cannot even afford my (trial) transcript. I am innocent and I need help!"

The Innocence Project receives a daily deluge of letters from prisoners, and they can take only so many cases. Cedric's aunt pled with the Innocence Project to look at Cedric's case, and finally, an undergraduate intern, Richard Askin, began to examine Cedric's case. He became obsessed.

"This case really got him," Maw says. "He was answering inmate mail, doing basic intern stuff, but he kept reminding us to look at Cedric's case. He took off three or four weeks, got the whole file, and started going through it."

Askin went to visit Cedric in Parchman. "I was so happy to see him," Cedric says. "I had grabbed all of my paperwork, even though I was shackled with handcuffs on, and brought everything down to the visiting room. When I got to see him, he was like, 'Well, we're looking at your case, but this is no guarantee. We're not even appointed to your case, so don't get so happy.' And I thought, I don't even care, as long as you're looking at it and seeing what I'm seeing."

The wheels of justice turn slowly. In 2002, Hinds County finally realized that Cedric's motion for a new trial had never been ruled upon. He was still entitled to an attorney, so the county reassigned public defender Tom Fortner to the case. The Innocence Project contacted Fortner and asked whether they could help with the case. Fortner happily agreed. Three more years passed while Fortner and the Innocence Project built their case that the original trial was fatally flawed. If their motion for a new trial were granted, it would be as if the first trial had never even happened at all. Both the prosecution and defense would start fresh.

Finally, in 2005, Judge Hilburn finally ruled on Cedric's motion for a new trial, 12 years after an answer was due. He granted it.

Do Not Shackle Him Again

With the new trial granted, Cedric was transferred to the jail at Raymond. Guards at Raymond immediately threw him into solitary again. They said they had to "classify" him.

"It was hard for me to adjust to Raymond," Cedric says. "In solitary there, it's a two-man cell. The guy I was with didn't want to bathe, and man, it was stinky up in there. It was like a toxic cloud when I walked in there. And the food was so nasty. The water didn't even taste like water—it was brown. I was there all through the holidays, and then one day they told me to get my stuff because I was going downtown."

Cedric spent another three months in the jail in downtown Jackson, waiting for his pre-trial hearings. Finally, on March 6, 2006, Cedric appeared before Judge Tomie Green. Cedric was hopeful, but this was only a pre-trial motion, to rule once more on whether the evidence that could have exonerated him in the first trial would be admitted into the new trial. It was the point at which everything had gone wrong for Cedric 12 years earlier, but there were some differences this time. For one, Cedric was not sitting beside his attorney, dressed in a new suit. Instead, he sat behind his attorneys in a brown prison suit, his hands and feet shackled. And this time, he had vastly greater legal resources working for his defense.

The defense went through elaborate PowerPoint presentations on the evidence and why the eye-witness identification was tainted. They flew in an expert on eye-witness identification, Solomon Fulero, whose research showed that in cases where prisoners were later exonerated by DNA, the majority of them were wrongfully convicted on the basis of false eye-witness identification. But Green may already have been convinced.

When Fulero arrived in Jackson, his luggage did not arrive with him, and he had nothing formal to wear to the hearing. He rushed to a department store and bought a cheap suit off the rack, but when he took the stand to testify, he was still wearing his Converse All-Stars. The attorney apologized to Green, assuring her that under other circumstances, he would have worn formal footwear, but the airline had lost his luggage.

"Well," Judge Green said, "at least you didn't lose 12 years of your life."

Tears began to spill down Cedric's cheeks. "At that point, we knew the judge was really paying attention," Maw says.

Green ruled that police had tainted the identification by Gloria White and her children, and it could not be used in a new trial. "Once the in-court identification was excluded, we had nothing else," Peterson says. "We had absolutely no other evidence."

Also, in the new trial, the exculpatory evidence excluded from the first trial would all be presented to a jury. The DNA would exclude him. His alibi for other crimes committed that night would exclude him. The description of the perpetrator would exclude him. "I had no choice but to remand the charges," Peterson says.

Judge Green sat for a moment at her bench as Cedric's mind reeled. Then she ordered the sheriff's deputy to remove Cedric's shackles. She called Cedric forward to the bench and apologized for all the time he had spent in prison.

"I believe you were innocent 12 years ago," Green said, "and I believe that you are innocent today. The wheels of justice grind very slowly, but sometimes they grind in the right direction."

Green ordered that Cedric be returned to jail immediately so he could retrieve his belongings. There would be no more delays, as Green ordered that Cedric was to be released that very day. And Green ordered that he not be shackled again.

"It was the most amazing moment—I haven't seen a moment like that in court before," Maw says.

"It took about an hour before they released me from the jail," Cedric says. "They had to process me. They asked if I had any clothes to wear, and I said, 'Man, I don't care how I leave here.'"

Outside, Cedric's family was waiting for him. Still dressed in his brown prison suit, he ran to his family, embracing relatives he had not seen in 12 years.

'A Double Injustice'

Maw and Peterson point out that whoever did commit the rape, murder and robberies 12 years ago was never arrested for the crime. When prosecutors dropped the rape charge against Cedric, the police never returned to the case to find the actual perpetrator, which outrages Peterson.

"It's really a double injustice," Maw says. "Cedric lost 12 years of his life, and none of the victims ever got justice."

Since his release, Cedric has begun the difficult task of restoring the life that was cut off when he was arrested. He has gotten a driver's license and has enrolled in a GED class. He took a trip to Seattle to meet with other exonerated prisoners, and whenever someone is exonerated in Mississippi, he will be there to counsel them on adjusting to life on the outside.

Still, Cedric was released with no education in prison, no job training and not a penny to his name. Even getting his driver's license was an ordeal that consumed most of two days. He did not have required paperwork because he had been in prison his entire adult life.

Cedric hopes to lobby the Legislature for a restitution law. "I feel that I should get some money. People's lives have been totally wrecked. I can't get back the time they took from me. Some of my loved ones have passed away while I was inside. My son has grown up, and I didn't get to see it. Money would help me a great deal."

For now, Cedric spends time with his son, now 12, hoping to make up for lost time. He has a new girlfriend; Tiffany is with another man who helped raise C.J. He works odd jobs for now, but he hopes to get a car soon so that he can find full-time work. He lives not far from the neighborhood where he spent his early childhood, in a house Habitat for Humanity built for his mother. She insisted that they build the house with an extra bedroom, because she had faith that one day Cedric would come home. He lives in that bedroom today.

Still, Cedric struggles with life after prison. "I'm walking around free," Cedric says, "but jail just stays in front of me everywhere I go. The things that were happening in there, the things that I saw, they're stuck in my head. I saw so many people get killed."

Cedric is "shaky" in public. He makes note of potential alibis, hour after hour, day after day, in case police come for him again. If he hears sirens, he quickly heads to somewhere safe, where friends or family can see him.

Recently, Cedric returned to the house on Meadowview, where he lived when he was arrested. He went into the room where he was sleeping when the detectives came for him. He retraced his steps through the kitchen, and he stopped in the living room, trying to recall every detail of how it had looked 12 years ago.

In the old house, Cedric thought about his grandmother. Hers was the last familiar face he saw before he entered jail, and now she is gone. She never got to see him exonerated. He stood in the doorway, as bright June sunlight flooded in, just as it had a dozen years before. "This is the last place I lived," he thought. "My life stopped right here, coming out that door." It stopped with no warning, he says now. "I worry it could happen again."

Previous Comments

ID
80209
Comment

I cried, Brian.

Author
Lori G
Date
2006-07-26T17:53:30-06:00
ID
80210
Comment

Brian, this is an absolutely riveting story! It's a shame that an innocent man lost nearly half of his life because of a flawed system run by flawed people. For obvious reasons, it validates my vehement opposition to the death penalty. Superb job of reporting. Simply superb. Thank you for bringing it to us!

Author
Kacy
Date
2006-07-26T18:33:43-06:00
ID
80211
Comment

I have to say that I've never been more proud to be a part of a group of people than the JFP. Great work.

Author
Darren Schwindaman
Date
2006-07-26T20:03:44-06:00
ID
80212
Comment

I told you in the office and i'll tell you again, this was a great story.

Author
William Patrick Butler
Date
2006-07-26T20:39:45-06:00
ID
80213
Comment

just wow. and near the end, about what he did not receive in prison in terms of education etc. criminal. just simply criminal.

Author
Kingfish
Date
2006-07-26T21:59:01-06:00
ID
80214
Comment

Brian thank you for this story. It represents more people than you know. This time the end is conforting even if 12 years were lost. We shall overcome someday.

Author
mslink
Date
2006-07-26T22:53:45-06:00
ID
80215
Comment

While everyone is piling much-deserved accolades on Brian, allow me to offer more good news. Starting officially on Aug. 1, Brian is the new managing editor of the Jackson Free Press. Natalie Collier is being promoted from her job as my personal assistant to his previous position, as assistant editor of the JFP. They have both worked very hard, and we're very proud of them both. Please congratulate them when you see them. And, I agree, this is simply a breathtaking story. My hearts breaks open for Cedric and his family. May God bless them.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-07-26T23:11:30-06:00
ID
80216
Comment

Brian, thanks for this story. Reading articles in the JFP is like reading a novel. The discriptions are so well done that one can actually visualize being in his home the day Cedric was arrested or being in the court room with Judge Green telling the attorney that "you haven't lost 12 years of your life." I could see the Nike tennis shoes with the "cheap" suit. The finality with Judge Green giving him his "walking papers" and ordering that there will be no more shackles was priceless! The sad thing is that this man has spent 12 years of his life behind bars and experiencing life in one of the worse facilities in this country; yet, there is no prevision for restitution. This man needs MONEY, job training and counseling. What a story!

Author
justjess
Date
2006-07-27T10:42:35-06:00
ID
80217
Comment

justjess, that is what Clarion Ledger and Gannett does not get. Good stories and good writing will keep people interested in what you produce. Why do I like to read the playboy interview? It is in-depth, not limited to a couple of pages, and I learn something about the person being interviewed unlike the usual ten question interview.

Author
Kingfish
Date
2006-07-27T10:51:46-06:00
ID
80218
Comment

**that is what Clarion Ledger and Gannett does not get. Good stories and good writing will keep people interested in what you produce. ** <-- Kingfish I had similar thoughts, Kingfish: why is it that we never read such spellbinding writing in the Clarion-Ledger, with all their Gannett resources. Most of their stories seem to be more snippets than substance. I've simply come to believe that theirs is what one might call 'lazy reporting'...a lot of shallow writing that often leaves readers like me asking questions that their story should have answered. Plus, there's very little hard-hitting, in-depth, fact-based stories in the Ledge, IMHO. And you're right: if they did more JFP-caliber reporting and writing, they'd have a much better product.

Author
Kacy
Date
2006-07-27T11:42:16-06:00
ID
80219
Comment

because they are following their gannet corporate model which says readership is declining, we have to make it more entertaining, and people don't want to read stories that are too long.

Author
Kingfish
Date
2006-07-27T11:46:06-06:00
ID
80220
Comment

Wow Brian, I have been moved to tears. As I sit here right now typing, tears flow steadily down my face. You made me feel like I was walking in Cedric's shoes. Wow, we just don't think that the "justice" system can be so "unjust". This man, Cedric, may he be blessed with a new life that will make up in some fashion for this system stealing away his life. Not his clothes or his shoes, this man lost his life. I am terrified by the idea that a man I love could lie asleep in his bed and all of a sudden, without warning be dragged away to a lifeless existence to no fault of his own. It's horrible and I am outraged with the entire idea that this happens. I don't want to seem niave, but your story, Brian, has made this more of a reality than anything I have ever read IN MY LIFE. Tell me this, if I wanted to contact Mr. Willis, would you be able to assist me. I mean I don't have much by any stretch, but I do have a vehicle that needs some minor work that I'd be happy to talk to him about. I am sick behind this. I am embarassed at this moment to be a part of a state that would allow a innocent man to serve time for a crime that he didn't commit and evidence was there from the beginning that he was innocent. He lost 12 years. 12 years. We don't get second chances to live. The state owes this man! And I hope that he gets it!!!!

Author
Queen601
Date
2006-07-27T13:39:08-06:00
ID
80221
Comment

BRIAN, I think you have introduced me to a new inspiration in Mr. Willis. Thank you again for this story. I really believe you have single handed changed my life just with this story. WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!

Author
Queen601
Date
2006-07-27T13:42:50-06:00
ID
80222
Comment

Brian, this story is amazing. Heartbreaking, achingly well written, detailed in every meaningful way--and a story that I, and I think so many other Mississippians, needed and still need to hear. People will still be reading this many years from now. Very well done. Peace, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-07-27T13:55:01-06:00
ID
80223
Comment

None of those involved in this travesty of justice should remain in public office. This is a mockery of justice.

Author
FreeClif
Date
2006-07-27T16:02:44-06:00
ID
80224
Comment

This story should give caution to the demagogues who would say that it is ok for police to break the law and beat people in handcuffs because they think they have the "thug" who is guilty of the crime. The young man in that case may in fact be guilty; but, if we condone "on site justice" then how will our society be any different from the social order espoused by the Taliban, Osama Bin Laden and all the other Jihadists --- not to mention the neo-Nazis like Tim McVeigh right here in the USA?

Author
FreeClif
Date
2006-07-27T16:07:24-06:00
ID
80225
Comment

I am 99 percent sure of this.

Author
FreeClif
Date
2006-07-27T16:07:56-06:00
ID
80226
Comment

Thank you so much, everyone, for your kind comments. Cedric and his family allowed me total access, and I must have interviewed Cedric a dozen times. Believe me, going through 20+ hours of tapes took some time. Just understanding the first trial took me a long time. In any case, to do a story like this justice, you simply have to put in that amount of time. This is one of the many lessons Donna has taught me. Other media have gotten this story wrong, when they have covered it at all. The CL gave it only the most cursory coverage. WAPT did much better, with a long feature in the late spring, but unfortunately, they got some key parts of the story entirely wrong. For instance, they framed the story as a DNA-exoneration story, but the truth is so much more telling. From the very beginning, the DNA exonerated Cedric. So this was not a case where the Innocence Project went back and tested old DNA. Furthermore, WAPT spent a great deal of time on tained eye witness identification, but the tenor of their coverage was that, Heck, sometimes things go wrong. In other words, they did not focus on the ways in which the police and prosecutors deliberately "tainted" the entire first trial. They also said absolutely nothing about Cedric's time in prison. I think that was one of the main things that motivated Cedric to tell this story, to be so generous with his time and so patient with me as I worked on it. He wanted people to understand the first trial so they could understand how badly the "justice" system can be distorted. None of the people who should have blown the whistle, from the police to the DA's office to Judge Hilburn, did so. Second, Cedric wanted Mississippians to understand what is happening inside their prisons. Ordinarily, people ignore the complaints of prisoners because they assume prisoners are lying. Their suits are all frivolous. It is only because Cedric was proven innocent that people may take his allegations of abuse seriously. As Cedric puts it: "You have to remember that some of the people in prison are innocent." If it is wrong to throw an innocent man into an environment of indiscriminate violence and abuse by guards, is it OK to throw a man who--say, killed another driver while intoxicated into that environment? Is it OK to throw a drug dealer into that environment? Is it OK, even, to throw a murderer into that environment? How does it serve the people of Mississippi? Anyway, I'll print out these comments and show them to Cedric. (When he was arrested in 1994, hardly anyone used the Internet, so he has some catching up to do.) I will close by relating something else Cedric would like people to consider. When you see someone making that "perp walk" on the evening news, and the newsmen just regurgitate the assertions of the police and prosecutors, remember that everything they're saying might be wrong. It is our duty as citizens to watch the people who act in our name, and we should be skeptical. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to take an accused man's guilt for granted. "Please don't do that. Please don't do that. Find out the facts before you cast judgment," Cedric says.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-07-29T13:53:38-06:00
ID
80227
Comment

I grew up with Cedric and I still remember the day the police arrested him for these crimes. We took it really as they "came and got Bozo (his nickname) ol' stupid police" but it shocked us when he was found guilty. Of course, we had no ideal what the criminal law states, but we knew he wasn't guilty. So we couldn't understand if he "had something to do with it or not." It was just a funny feeling. His girlfriend, Tiffany, worked at Popeye's on Clinton Blvd. at the time and everytime I went inside and saw her, she would br brought to tears. It was just sad. Not too mention how eventually a majority of the neighborhood and close friends had began to take this "he must have done it" approach. Slowly, it became all but forgotten. Accepted. As crime took off rapidly. Powerful article. Tragic story.

Author
Code Red
Date
2006-07-31T19:05:47-06:00
ID
80228
Comment

DS, you're making me cry all over again. A man's innocence "all but forgotten." I am so ashamed.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-07-31T20:00:52-06:00
ID
80229
Comment

Thank you, DS, for commenting. Has there been a change in the community since Cedric's exoneration? Is he remembered now?

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-07-31T21:00:33-06:00
ID
80230
Comment

Brian, are you aware of any plans to hold a benefit for Cedric? It is scandalous that the law provides no kind of remuneration to him for being wrongly incarcerated for 12 years! Failing that, is there an address where I might personally send him a contribution?

Author
Kacy
Date
2006-07-31T21:45:46-06:00
ID
80231
Comment

This is a great idea, Kacy. A number of people have been asking for ways that they can help Cedric get back on his feet. Brian can talk to Cedric and find out the best way to do that and let all of you know. Maybe there is a post office box or such to send donations to. And, certainly, we can convey messages about help with bigger things like cars, Queen. Just send Brian a phone number, and he can pass them along to Cedric to call you back. ;-)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-08-01T10:23:20-06:00
ID
80232
Comment

Oh, and Kacy, the benefit is a really good idea, too. We're doing our "Know Your Rights" forum tonight; I'll float this idea around and see what people think. And, obviously, we need to see if Cedric himself would approve.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-08-01T10:24:23-06:00
ID
80233
Comment

Donations are a good thing. However, is anything being done to get this guy a GED so he can function in the real world? Donations and justice are good, but we need to get this guy to where he can go on with his life without our help at some point. Unconscienable that he can not sue the state.

Author
Kingfish
Date
2006-08-01T10:26:05-06:00
ID
80234
Comment

Down, Kingfish. I don't think anybody here is talking about giving him, er, hand-outs for what's left of his life. I think the point is that the man needs clothes and a car and some other basic necessities in order to re-start his life and make up for lost time. Agreed that the state should have to pay for this. Maybe it would make the schmucks who just wanted quick "justice" have to pay for it.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-08-01T10:30:33-06:00
ID
80235
Comment

Want to hear an intriguing irony? Bobby Delaughter got his 15 minutes of fame for the *1994* conviction of Byron de la Beckwith for killing Medgar Evers. Guess what year he was the assistant district attorney who started working on putting this young black man in prison for 12 years? As Paul Harvey would say, that is the rest of the story.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-08-01T10:31:49-06:00
ID
80236
Comment

February 5, 1994: Byron de la Beckwith convicted June 24, 1994: Cedric Willis arrested

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-08-01T10:36:49-06:00
ID
80237
Comment

Could somebody find out what size clothes and shoes Cedric wears. I can proabably help him tremendously in that regard. I haven't had time to read the story yet.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-08-01T10:50:56-06:00
ID
80238
Comment

totally agree with you Miss Ladd. Was not a criticism. More like, how can we help this guy right now in addition to material things, which he obviously needs.

Author
Kingfish
Date
2006-08-01T11:13:56-06:00
ID
80239
Comment

Understood. Peace. ;-)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-08-01T11:14:42-06:00
ID
80240
Comment

Indeed, this is a sad and hurtful story. I don't know if I could have made it through all of this. Going to jail is still one of my great fears. I have awaken myself many times while I dreaming I was heading to prison on trumped up charges. Cases like this illustrate why criminal lawyers have to be fearless gladiators, and not look to the position of judge or prosecutor with more respect than they deserve. Or police officer. Cases like this also show why we need good judges like Tomie Green and prosecutors like Faye Peterson. Cases like this moreover illustrate why you can't do this work for money and without heart-felt concern for your client. I still basically and generally do not like public defenders, judges or prosecutors. I'm working to like them but I often don't see most of them as worth liking. Judges have threatened to lock me up many times for my slowness and stubborness to capitulate to what I felt was wrong and unfair to my client. On one occasion I had a lawyer to defend me, on another one I had my wife there to bail me out, and on third occasion I threatened to refuse to finish the trial unless the judge changed his ruling. In all three cases I prevailed at trial for my client despite what I consider unfairness from the judge and prosecutors. I'm not proud of these incidents but I'm convinced we can't be wussies and defend the public. I'm sure I'll go to jail some day for standing up for my client's rights. Despite the foregoing I know there are some wonderful judges and prosecutors of all races and sexes. Nothing make me happier than seeing fair and just judges, prosecutors, and police officers in courtrooms. Mis-indentications have sent countless innocent people to jail. I have read about and witnessed many rape victims admit they didn't know who raped them, and that suggestibility by the police is why they picked the person from the lineup. I won't even mention the numerous problems brought on by white folks picking black folks from lineups, and vice versa. I even had a case where the victim said some niggers are killing my husband without giving any further description. At court the same witness picked another person than the one she picked for the police pre-trial. The second person she picked was jet black and had twice the weight of the first person who was also light-skinned. The majority of the time jurors believe eye-witnesses whether they're right or wrong. Corrupt polices and prosecutors know this too well.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-08-01T12:07:11-06:00
ID
80241
Comment

Ray, I too have a terror of going to prison, which may have helped with this story. The only "time" I've done was an overnighter in Orleans Parish Prison, but that's a story for another time. I think that one thing this story illustrates is that proper protocols for eye witness identifications must be followed every single time, and if they are not followed, the courts must be strict with the police about it. People so often regard proper procedure as a hassle, as "techicalities" that will set dangerous men free. But those procedures are there to ensure that the law is just. The police (and prosecutors) must respect the rights of defendants or the law becomes a hateful thing. I am sure Cedric would be humbled by everyone's support. I will talk to him on Wednesday and see what we can do. Stay tuned.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-08-01T20:35:47-06:00
ID
80242
Comment

The last time I was on this blog, I was affected tremendously ALL DAY LONG. And I suppose I'll be the same way today. I don't mean to make this a black thing (although seems like I could be well within my rights), but yall, I don't know if any of you can truly understand the message that this sends to black communities. EVEN IF YOU ARE INNOCENT, YOU CAN GO TO JAIL FOR A LONG LONG TIME and there is really nothing that you can really do about it. Just wait and hope! What good does that do to a lonely, innocent soul sitting in a jail cell wondering why the Lord has forsaken him. Does this even happen to white folk....I'm sure it does, but can someone offer me some form of reference just so that I don't feel like it's just my people who go through this.

Author
Queen601
Date
2006-08-02T11:55:05-06:00
ID
80243
Comment

And yes, I will email my number to you Brian because I would love to see if I can do anything for Cedric. And I do still have that car, has his name on it if he wants it. Peace and Blessings to everyone on here that has a soul.....To bad we can't just all meet up and get out in the streets of Jackson and scream out to the entire city the way things SHOULD be....cuz we got it together over here.

Author
Queen601
Date
2006-08-02T11:55:13-06:00
ID
80244
Comment

Cedric is on a national stage—this story and his photo are the top feature on the AAN site right now. ;-D

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-08-02T14:00:05-06:00
ID
80245
Comment

Brian, I know the judge well who sat on that motion for a new trial all that time. The person representing Derrick had to drop (or should I say lose the ball) too. I could say so many thing that could get me in trouble or disbarred but I won't say them. I still have a little sense. You're so right about following procedures on line-up, show-ups, et al. The events need to be videotaped. Judges have to be independent and care about doing justice. A prosecutor's job is to do justice, not just seek convictions. Judge Wingate talked to me what seemed like hours about this one time. He does a wonderful job of this. He's even stonefaced during the trial. You can rarely tell what he's thinking. He's a brillant man and a great example of what a judge should do, in my opinion, despite his detractors.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-08-02T14:44:35-06:00
ID
80246
Comment

Does this even happen to white folk....I'm sure it does, but can someone offer me some form of reference just so that I don't feel like it's just my people who go through this. - Queen601 When I lived in Alabama I remember a white guy who was on death row for a murder he didn't commit, and his sentence was overturned years later. Sure it happens to white folks, but when you consider that the prison system is disproportionately represented by minorities (blacks and Hispanics mainly) who generally receive harsher sentences then their white counterparts (as evidenced by numerous studies) it can be quite depressing. I'm glad Mr. Willis has his freedom and good name back, albeit years later. The system can never repay him for the pain he and his family had to endure.

Author
Jeff Lucas
Date
2006-08-02T16:19:41-06:00
ID
80247
Comment

So look does this mean that no one can be held accountable for the years the man has lost due to what....no fault of his own. I would be just as upset if he had served 12 days, or 12 hours for that matter for something he didn't do. Is there no justice for the justice system when it fails. Isn't that sort of hypocritical in itself. My goodness there has got to be a pass into heaven (or whatever afterlife he lives by) for this guy and other like him (black, white, chinese, hispanic, whatever) just simply because he has been served a big batch of HELL right here on earth and didn't even deserve it.

Author
Queen601
Date
2006-08-02T16:56:32-06:00
ID
80248
Comment

And Ray....let us not forget the inspirational acts of Judge Tommie Green. She continues to do her best to offer justice to this city.

Author
Queen601
Date
2006-08-02T16:58:39-06:00
ID
80249
Comment

Yes it does happen to blacks and whites. The innocence project started in New York by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld has freed many innocent people with DNA. Barry and Vanessa, Peter's assistant, were in Miami last week at the conference I was at. They're trying to help people all over the country. Peter and Vanessa are working on a case with our office right now. In many states there is a fund to pay people for the lost years or time. One lawyer in Las Vegas I believe sued the state and possibly the prosecutor for wrongful prosecution or something like that and got a large award. I 'll need to go back and re-read this to be totally accurate on who was sued and why she was allowed to prevail. I don't remember if Mississippi has a fund for this but I doubt it.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-08-02T17:10:34-06:00
ID
80250
Comment

For me, a monetary reward wouldn't be enough to replace the time lost, or the hell I would have endured to keep from being harassed or raped while incarcerated. Only a time machine/fountain of youth would be true repayment in my mind. But having to shell out a large financial settlement ti the wrongfully accused would make "The System" do as much as it could to properly try cases without the double standards and assumption of guilt that is inherent in the justice system.

Author
Jeff Lucas
Date
2006-08-02T20:44:23-06:00
ID
80251
Comment

let me know if there is any way I can help with a benefit. This is just an appalling story, but one that every person with a conscience ought to read or hear.

Author
Scott Albert Johnson
Date
2006-08-04T12:05:21-06:00
ID
80252
Comment

I do think a benefit is a good idea. Let me work on a location. Other artists/musicians, etc., want to participate? We could also do a silent art auction if anyone wants to donate some work. Let's help get Cedric back on his feet. It's the least Mississippians can do.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-08-04T12:12:50-06:00
ID
80253
Comment

All, I met Cedric for the first time at a party Friday. Really, really nice man. And he is very touched that folks want to host a benefit for him, and said that he would be honored and would attend. I will get a date going for September and report back. Anyone who wants to help in some way please let us know. Peace, Donna

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-08-07T20:18:20-06:00
ID
80254
Comment

hey im cedric willis girlfriend thank you all for reading his story if u want to contact him ucan email me at [email]laswil2@bellsouth.net[/email] thank you all

Author
cedric willis i'm free
Date
2006-12-15T17:24:09-06:00
ID
80255
Comment

queen than u for readind cedric story on line if u want to get in touch with him u can e mail me at [email]laswil2@bellsouth.net[/email] thank you

Author
cedric willis i'm free
Date
2006-12-15T17:25:48-06:00
ID
80256
Comment

Cedric, it was great to meet you earlier tonight!

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-12-16T02:01:30-06:00
ID
80257
Comment

I wish I'd known Cedric was there. Also, my wife and I enjoyed hanging with you Tom; let's do it again.

Author
Cliff Cargill
Date
2006-12-16T02:18:40-06:00
ID
80258
Comment

Same here, chief--what a great party! Thanks, and let's definitely do that again. You're some pretty cool folks!

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-12-16T02:31:37-06:00
ID
80259
Comment

hi i know cedric may have seen so happy last night at the party but he is still trying to get use to being in pubic, he feel like he's unwanted in the city of jackson and i'm glad that he was able to come to the party but we r working on things for as family matter's. he wants to go to school and work but its hard with him not ever having a job he want to support the family but he cant and due to him having seziures it makes him so depressed. cedric is really a wonderful man and i'm so glad that we have meet, he is the most loving man i know. thanks bozo love u

Author
cedric willis i'm free
Date
2006-12-16T14:50:27-06:00
ID
80260
Comment

Donna, I would like to perform at the benefit. I have started some collaborations that bridge racial and musical genre divides, so that may come into play...

Author
Izzy
Date
2006-12-16T16:22:06-06:00
ID
80261
Comment

I've got a brother with a seizure disorder who's in a similar boat. It looks to me like Cedric is at least on really good meds (he didn't seem the least bit spaced out to me), so that's not a bad start. And he seemed very comfortable in public at the party, though a bit overwhelmed by the crowd, which I picked up on only because I'm also overwhelmed by crowds. Where is Cedric, educationally? (Please feel free to email me privately if you like.) I co-wrote four books on nontraditional education; two of my co-authors wrote Finding Money for College, and the other runs the Cheap Degrees web site. I might be able to help out some here. Does he have his diploma? If not, I suspect he'd pass his GED in short order--I'm saying this because I talked to him long enough to figure out that he had a good vocabulary and was cognitively "there," which means that with maybe a month of test prep, he can be a high school graduate and move on to college if he wants. I am an expert on multiple-choice exams (I earned 114 of my 123 college semester hours by exam, I kid you not), and would be happy to tell him everything I know about passing these things, which, along with Duling School's GED-prep classes or a really good book from the Princeton Review (they do the best test-prep guides, IMHO), will have him very well equipped to kick butt and take names on that GED exam. I might also be able to help find some grant or scholarship money. Does he want to go on to college? I have to believe that some school, as a PR thing, would jump at the opportunity to be the school that fronted the tuition of an exonerated Mississippian, and if he wants to stay local, even that might not be out of the question. Then there's the possibility of doing degrees by distance learning or through one of the flexible adult reentry student bachelor's degree programs out there, which is how I did mine (I wasn't a reentry student, but I had been homeschooled and was not a conventional student, so I benefited from this alternative approach; I can't say whether Cedric would, too, but it has the benefit of probably being the least expensive option). I don't mean to flood you with unsolicited ideas--and at any rate, you've probably thought of half of it already--but I want to do what I can to help. Let's talk. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-12-16T17:39:14-06:00
ID
80262
Comment

I should have reread the article before I posted; I see now that he's already enrolled in a GED class, which means that he's probably on top of the game in that department. Let's talk anyway, though--I'd love to do whatever I can to make myself useful! Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-12-16T17:40:56-06:00
ID
80263
Comment

WELL TOM BRIAN DID A GOOD JOB ON THE REPORT BUT IT WAS A COUPLE OF MISTAKES AT THE TIME HE WENT AND TOOK THE FIRST TEST WICH WAS A TEST TO SEE WHICH AREA HE NEEDED HELP IN AND THE WEAKEST AREAS WAS MATH AND SCIENCE. TOM HE REALLY DO NEED HELP. EVERY ONE SHOULD HAVE SOME KIND OF TRADE. IN JAN. HE START WORKING DOWNTOWN AT THE GALLAWAY CHURCH SO THAT WILL BE A GREAT START FOR HIM. I HAVE READ U CAN HELP WITH GRANTS I'M NOW A MEDICAL LAB TECH AND I WANTED TO ATTEND A PRIVATE NURSING SCHOOL BECAUSE HIND CC NURSING PROGRAM HAS A WAITING LIST AND IT WILL BE ATLEAST 3 TO FOUR YEARS BEFORE I CAN START SCHOOL THE LIST IS THAT LONG THEY ONLY TAKE IN 75 STUDENTS PER CLASS SO I NEED HELP WITH GETTING A GRANT.THANK U MY E-MAIL ADRESS IS [email]LASWIL2@BELLSOUTH.NET[/email] WE CAN TALK MORE THAT WAY SO TALK TO U LATER TOM

Author
cedric willis i'm free
Date
2006-12-16T20:25:29-06:00
ID
80264
Comment

I'm delighted to hear he'll be working at Galloway! I'll drop you an email later tonight--it sounds like both of you are doing some really cool stuff! Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-12-16T20:32:36-06:00
ID
80265
Comment

Good to see The Clarion-Ledger starting to report about the restitution issue Brian winned in the above (and now award-winning!) piece.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-05-06T08:36:04-06:00
ID
80266
Comment

It's also good to see that Chris Joyner and The Clarion-Ledger are now reporting on the horrible Unit 32 conditions at Parchman that Cedric Willis, an innocent man, had to endure. See above.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-07-06T21:04:13-06:00
ID
149204
Comment

BRIAN JOHNSON'S STORY WAS WELL PUT TOGETHER. I WAS REALLY MOVED BY THAT STORY.

Author
my thoughts
Date
2009-06-30T18:24:26-06:00
ID
149209
Comment

Thanks, except that it is really Cedric's story. I just did my best to tell it. Note that expediency is finally catching up to Peters and DeLaughter.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2009-06-30T19:11:58-06:00
ID
149212
Comment

Wow, what a great story. I hadn't read it before. Like Kacy said in a much earlier post, with a Justice system that operates like our's does it reaffirms my belief that capital punishment can never be a part of Justice. Nicely done Brian.

Author
WMartin
Date
2009-06-30T19:59:16-06:00
ID
149214
Comment

An award-winning story at that! Y'all, tell Brian to come home to us. We miss him! ;-) And, yes, we tried to get people to take a second look at Peters and DeLaughter for a while, eh Brian? As Todd always says, do the right thing and wait. That's our slogan around here.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-06-30T20:09:49-06:00
ID
154127
Comment

Cedric is getting $500,000 from the state in annual payments of $50,000. Praise be!

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-12-08T16:08:03-06:00
ID
154136
Comment

Great, but not nearly enough for the injustice he faced for 12 years.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2009-12-09T09:30:44-06:00

Comments

donnaladd 2 years, 3 months ago

All, please note that the comments from the old website are just above In "PREVIOUS COMMENTS." We made sure they moved over with us.

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