CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Willie Shaw was released from Mecklenburg County jail Tuesday afternoon after spending nearly five years in prison for a crime he says he didn’t commit.
This vacated conviction happened after years of work by Duke Law’s Wrongful Conviction clinic, which has exonerated ten North Carolinians for crimes they didn’t commit, including Ronnie Long.
In 2015, Shaw was accused of sexually assaulting a resident at a long-term care facility in Mint Hill where he worked. That woman later died from her injuries a few days later.
In 2016, Shaw entered an Alford plea, which allows a defendant to accept punishment while maintaining his innocence. He pleaded guilty to patient abuse and neglect charges in connection to the woman’s death.
As soon as he entered the plea though, Shaw says he began trying to prove his innocence.
The Wrongful Convictions Clinic starting working with Shaw’s case and their investigation revealed that the state’s allegations did not match the medical evidence.
According to the Wrongful Conviction Clinic, the state alleged Shaw, a certified nursing assistant, assaulted the resident at approximately 2:45 p.m., when Shaw provided her intimate care during her shower, but medical experts concluded that the injury happened 30-120 minutes before 10 p.m. when the patient was found bleeding in her bed.
The Clinic’s investigation also revealed that Shaw’s defense counsel conducted almost no investigation and instead encouraged Shaw to plead guilty rather than proceed to trial, where the prosecutors would enhance the charge to felony murder.
Judge Carla Archie ordered an evidentiary hearing, which started on Dec 8, 2020. At the hearing a forensic pathologist testified that the patient likely was injured 30-120 minutes before 10 p.m., seven hours after the state alleged that Shaw injured her.
An expert in geriatric medicine also testified in this hearing that video of the resident after 2:45 p.m. showed she exhibited no signs of injury at that time.
After three days of testimony, Mecklenburg County prosecution reviewed the case and new evidence and decided there wasn’t enough evidence to support the conviction. The defense and the state then jointly requested Shaw’s case be vacated.
“It was all about this timeline. That’s what we were able to identify in looking at this case. The way that the state and in Shaw’s plea said the crime occurred wasn’t possible and that was what our medical experts were able to tell us,” said Megan Mallonee, a third year law student at Duke Law.
Willie Shaw says he was overwhelmed with emotions but of happiness and scared of what’s to come. He says he’s going to take it day by day and visit his family in Chicago.
“It’s not easy to put into words. I’m happy. I’m thankful. I’m grateful. I’m ecstatic on the inside even though it’s not showing right now. It’s a scary happy feeling. Basically just waiting to see my kids and my mom and try to put my life back together,” he said moments after being released from jail.
WBTV reached out to the lawyer who was representing the family of the victim in the case. He said he was reviewing the case and the decision with the family but wasn’t yet able to give a statement.