A 44-year old Mississippi man was shot and killed two blocks from his home on Monday, June 24th. Cedric Willis had previously been imprisoned for crimes he didn’t commit.
After 12 years of being in jail, 4 of which were spent in solitary confinement, Willis was exonerated in 2006 and had spent the last 13 years regaining his life.
In 1994, Cedric Willis was incorrectly identified as a perpetrator who had raped a woman during a robbery and shot another man in an unrelated incident. The victims of both the rape and murder identified Willis as the offender.
Although the DNA test came back negative in relation to the rape charges, Willis was still convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in jail plus an additional 90 years. During the murder trial, the jury didn’t hear about the DNA results and therefore had no reason to re-examine the evidence for the murder.
Willis made repeated requests for a new trial, but it wasn’t until The Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO) intervened that a new trial was finally granted. The IPNO—a non-profit organization dedicated to freeing innocent prisoners—was ultimately responsible for the exoneration of Willis, when a judge determined that previous witness testimony was inadmissible. Willis was released on March 6, 2006.
Emily Maw, the IPNO attorney responsible for giving Willis his life back had formed a strong bond with Cedric and his family. Referring to his life after being released, Maw said, “He’d been working out, he was feeling good.” After seeing Willis three weeks before his murder, Maw commented that “things seemed to be going so well for him.”
Willis worked with the ACLU helping people register to vote. He also enjoyed taking care of both his cousin and sister’s kids and had recently become a grandparent. Although his epilepsy kept him from holding down a consistent job, he did whatever he could to stay busy.
Willis’ mother, Elayne Willis said that her son “was just a kindhearted, loving person trying to help people.” She mentioned that although his wrongful imprisonment had impacted him greatly, “he never let it show.”
JPD spokesman Sgt. Roderick Holmes reported that Willis was found lying on a corner Monday afternoon. He was shot multiple times in the upper body and left for dead. Authorities currently have no leads on the offender and a motive for the murder has yet to be determined.