Willie Grimes takes the stand in his innocence hearing

Published: Oct. 3, 2012 at 3:59 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 14, 2016 at 2:10 AM EDT
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NEWTON, NC (WBTV) - A man who spent 25 years behind bars after being convicted of  rape and kidnapping took the stand in his own defense Tuesday in Newton before three judges who will decide if the man is indeed innocent. Willie Grimes the panel he was nowhere near the house where a woman said he raped her in October, 1987. "I was somewhere else and could not have done it," said Grimes. His testimony followed several of his friends who all detailed the hours of October 24th of that year and how Grimes was with them and that they were shocked when he was arrested two days later.

The hearing comes after an investigation by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission. It ruled in the spring that enough evidence exists for the case to go before a three judge panel for a final ruling. The defense claims the prosecution in 1987 failed to turn over key evidence to the defense, most notably, fingerprints found on some fruit that the victim said the attacker may have touched. The fingerprints were identified last year as belonging to someone other than Willie Grimes.

Grimes told the court Tuesday that he had chances to get out of prison ten years ago but that would have required him to admit his guilt and take certain classes. "I told them I would stay in there forever before I would admit to something I didn't do."

A major issue with the case is that most of the physical evidence that was used in the 1988 trial when he was convicted is now missing including the rape kits and hairs that were found at the scene. The defense claims the hairs were not subject to DNA testing which they claim could exonerate Grimes today.

The three judge panel is expected to make its ruling within hours after the hearing ends. Testimony is expected to continue into Thursday.