DNA sets Florida inmate free after 18 years | News
Tampa, Florida -- A Tampa Bay area man who spent 18 years in prison on a rape conviction walked free Monday night on the strength of new DNA evidence.
Prosecutors in Bradenton dropped charges against Derrick Williams after a state circuit judge overturned his conviction and prison sentence last week.
He exited the Hardee Correctional Institute about 8 p.m. to an excited crowd of relatives, including his future wife and son, who was celebrating his 29th birthday.
The same gray t-shirt that helped put Williams in prison for life in 1993 resurfaced as the piece of evidence that led to the conviction being thrown out. A DNA expert found it "highly unlikely" that Williams wore the shirt because there was DNA on it from other people but not from Williams.
The Innocence Project of Florida had fought on Williams' behalf for five years leading up to the exoneration.
"I want to thank The Innocence Project (and) my family," Williams said, "for believing in me from day one when I told you. Everybody just stuck with me and I thank God for them."
State Attorney Earl Moreland said he still believes Williams is guilty but time and legal hurdles make it difficult to prosecute the case again.