Panel to rule on convicted rapist's claim of innocence - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

Panel to rule on convicted rapist's claim of innocence

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NEWTON, NC (WBTV) -

25 year ago Willie Grimes was sent to prison for life after being convicted of kidnapping and first degree rape.

Grimes said they had the wrong but appeals failed and he spent more than two decades behind bars trying to prove his innocent.

This week in Newton the effort comes down to a three judge panel which will decide if Grimes is not guilty of the crimes he was convicted of.

"I'm praying to Jehovah that it all turns out all right," said Grimes as he awaited the start of the hearing. Grimes has been free on parole since May but says he wants to clear his name.

The State Innocence Commission held hearings on his claims and decided that there was enough merit in them to turn the matter over to a three judge panel.

That panel is hearing evidence this week on the matter. Unlike a regular criminal trial where the burden of proof is on the prosecution, this time the full weight is on the defense team to show to a "certainty" that Grimes is innocent.

 The defense claims that photo lineups were improperly used when the victim on the case identified Grimes as the attacker. The woman did have trouble in court picking Grimes out as well. She pointed to his attorney when asked to identify the suspect.  The defense team says another man should have been considered as a suspect in the case.

The victim said her attacker had taken some fruit when he left and fingerprints on bananas at the scene belong to someone other than Grimes. The other man is one Police say has had a history of violence against others and is in fact awaiting trial involving a 1973 rape case.  The defense claims none of that information was available or presented to the jury when Grimes was convicted.

District Attorney James C. Gaither said he is open to listening to what the defense has to say.

"We are always looking for the truth," he said. No one in the DA's office today was involved in the Grimes case in 1988 so Gaither only has paperwork to review but says while there may be questions about what happened "The evidence does not rise to the level, I believe, to declare him innocent."

The three judges said they will make a decision once all the evidence is presented and the arguments made. They also said that whatever they decide will be the final decision. No appeal will be possible. Grimes said he is hoping for the best. "I just put my faith in Jehovah," he said.

The hearing is expected to last until at least mid-week.

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