Mich. Man Imprisoned for 37 Years on Murder Conviction Is Exonerated After Witness Admits She Lied
A Michigan man was freed last month after being wrongfully convicted of a crime and spending more than 37 years in prison.
Walter Forbes, 63, was released on November 20. His release came after the prosecution's star witness admitted to fabricating her story, the Detroit Free Press reports.
Forbes was arrested in 1982. He was convicted of arson and murder the following year and sentenced to life in prison.
According to the Free Press, the case began when Forbes broke up a bar fight in 1982. One of the men involved in the fight, Dennis Hall, shot Forbes the following day. But then, on July 12, 1982, Hall died in a fire that appeared to be deliberately set.
During trial, a woman testified that she had seen three men, including Forbes, burn down Hall's apartment. The woman, Annice Kennebrew, was the prosecution's star witness and the cornerstone of their case.
But in 2017 — 34 years after the trial — Kennebrew admitted that she had lied during her testimony, according to court documents obtained by the Free Press.
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In a February 2020 evidentiary hearing, Kennebrew testified “that she had falsely implicated Mr. Forbes because she had been intimidated into doing so by two local men who knew her from around the neighborhood and who had threatened to harm her and her family if she did not implicate Mr. Forbes,” according to court documents.
Kennebrew did not return messages from the Free Press. PEOPLE was unable to reach her for comment. The statute of limitations for perjury is six years, so she faces no charges in the case.
In addition to Kennebrew's recanting her testimony, prosecutors say that the apartment building's owner was later convicted in a separate arson-for-insurance-money scheme. While the owner has not been officially implicated in Hall's 1982 death, defense attorneys say his subsequent criminal activity casts reasonable doubt on Forbes' conviction.
While Forbes says he forgives those whose actions helped convict him, he says the system was tilted against him. Now a free man, he is visiting with family and trying to make up for lost time. He is planning a trip to see his 94-year-old mother soon.
When asked about the best moments after being freed, Forbes had a ready answer. “Seeing my family for the first time," he told the Free Press. "It was one of those moments where all you can do is grin."
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