What do you do when you are innocent, but convicted and sentenced for a crime you didn’t commit?
What happens when you have trouble following rules in prison because – for a good reason – you don’t believe you should be treated this way?
And, what happens when your case comes up for parole?
You can’t say to the parole board what they want to hear. That you have learned your lesson, you are a different person, and you are sorry for your crime.
If that crime was murder, but you didn’t do it, no parole board in the country is going to recommend you. After all, you can’t be sorry for something you didn’t do.
It’s a true story about a man who spent 21 years in prison for a crime all those around him knew he didn’t commit.
A 2005 story on This American Life chronicles his story, from when he was arrested and convicted in 1980, to the unceasing work of his friend Carl King which eventually led to his exoneration and release in 2001.
It all started when 16-year-old Mario Hamilton was killed on April 10, 1980.
Two 14-year-olds were interrogated by police. Their names were Thomas Charlemagne – the alleged witness to the murder – and Martell Hamilton, the victim’s brother.
Police questioned the boys for hours.
Martell remembers Thomas getting yelled at and intimidated at the police station. Eventually, he picked a photo out of a police mug shot book so he could make the interrogation end.
Warner’s picture was in there because he had one nonviolent offense: carrying a switchblade. He was on probation for the offense at the time of the murder.
Even after police were told by Martell that he’d heard a kid named Norman Simmonds. He turned out to be the actual killer – say he was going to kill Mario in revenge for killing someone else, the police ignored the information.
They had their case against Colin. In a crazy twist, six months later police finally acted on the stories of real eyewitnesses and people from the Hamilton’s neighborhood who knew the story.
They arrested Norman Simmonds and he ended up going on trial along with Colin Warner – not instead of him.
Their first trial ended in a hung jury, after which Norman was offered a plea deal: 2 to 6 years in prison and Colin Warner walks. Norman didn’t take it and they both got convicted of second-degree murder.
Colin was sentenced to the minimum allowable sentence: 15 years to life.
The trouble was, and is, once you are in the system it doesn’t matter if you aren’t guilty. Everyone inside will treat you as though you are.
Colin spent 4 years of his time in prison in solitary confinement. His appeals were repeatedly denied. His parole hearings were wastes of time. It looked like he would be spending the rest of his life in prison.
Innocent and Imprisoned
However, Colin had a diehard friend on the outside, Carl King. Carl worked on getting Colin freed in all his spare time. In 2001, he eventually got attorney William Robedee interested in this case.
Together they found not only Norman Simmonds, who admitted to killing Mario, but Mario’s brother, Martell, and another witness who could testify that it wasn’t Colin who killed Mario.
They gathered all their evidence. This included two eyewitness testimonies that hadn’t been part of the first trial, two other witness testimonies which were recanted, a confession from the real killer, and three sworn affidavits from three alibis. And it worked.
Because Norman Simmonds had already been tried and served time for the crime of killing Mario Hamilton, his confession couldn’t incriminate him any further.
After 21 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Colin Warner was released.
This story is a testament to the dedication and friendship of Carl King – who now helps other innocent people get out of prison.
If you are or someone you know is innocent and facing charges like Colin, having an experienced attorney by your side is critical.