December 7, 2023

While the country remains on a community quarantine, enhanced, general or otherwise, for those who have Internet connection, I suggest that you watch the short bio of Archie Williams.
Archie Williams who? Nobody ever heard of him and nobody cares. I never heard of him. I do not know him. I only came across this man when he auditioned with the popular show, America’s Got Talent, which I watched with awe on YouTube. As he marched towards the stage in his grey flannel shirt, his shining bald head, and his jowl made him look like one on those nuisance contestants who are kulang sa pansin. But after Simon Cowell asked him to tell a brief story of his life, Williams stunned the crowd. He sang to the tune of “Don’t Let the Sun Fall Down on Me” with such ardor and passion that those watching, including the judges, shed tears. They gave him a standing ovation and cheered his name; “Archie, Archie, Archie.”
What made his performance special was not his rendition of the song, although in my opinion, his version was better than that of Elton John. It was the life story behind the song that had him emotionally attached to his audience.
Williams is a black American guy who was jailed for 37 years for a crime he did not commit. He was convicted in 1983 for the rape of a white woman who, on the occasion of the rape, was repeatedly stabbed. Although three witnesses stood by his alibi that he was at home while the rape was being perpetrated and none of the fingerprints collated at the crime scene matched his, he was, nevertheless, convicted because according to him, he was black, he did not have the economic means to fight the State of Louisiana, and somebody had to take the fall. He took the fall alright and was sentenced to serve 80 years in jail without the probability of parole or probation.
After his conviction, he was sent to the Angola Correctional Institute, classified as the bloodiest federal prison in the U.S. It makes it painful that he labored in a maximum penitentiary facility, notwithstanding that he committed no wrong. As painful as it is, it is worth appreciating that his time spent in jail did not break him. His fighting spirit is worth emulating when he said, “Freedom is of the mind. My body might have been in jail but my mind won’t allow me to be broken.” He is just as thankful that the wrong done had been rectified and he is now a free man, then mumbles to himself: “What about the others?”
As parting words, he served the warning that many innocent persons are languishing in jail because of the failure of the justice system.
What Williams related about his conviction and the failure of the justice system touched a raw nerve in me. As a lawyer, I could easily relate to his plight and his frustration. Like him, I know that there are many accused who have been wrongly convicted. They are suffering in jail because some were not properly represented during their trial. I have seen people indicted for a crime they did not commit because of pure vindictiveness by rude, selfish and greedy accusers. I have witnessed people stand trial and subsequently sentenced to suffer the rest of their lives in prison because of fabricated hiccups that did not work to their advantage. At times, there is a double standard of justice which caters more to the rights of the rich to the detriment of the poor and the helpless. It is this that makes me cry and doubt whether what I and my colleagues is doing is all worth it. Let me cite an example.
The case of Williams is no different from the celebrated double murder case of Brown and Goldman against O. J. Simpson, the great American football player who became the World Ambassador for Hertz. Both of them were black Americans who are accused of violating the rights of white people. Both had the element of a discrimination case involving blacks versus whites. The difference of course, is that O. J. had the economic resources whereas Archie did not. O. J. had at his disposal the best lawyers that money can buy like Francis Lee Bailey, Robert Shapiro, Johnnie Cochran, and, to a limited degree, Gerry Spence. At the height of the trial, this battery of lawyers was dubbed by the press as the “Dream Team.” On the other hand, Archie had public defenders who were all too willing to accept a plea bargaining if only to dispose of his case from their pile of cases.
As expected, despite the overwhelming evidence against him, O. J. was acquitted. On the other hand, despite the moral doubt on the guilt of Archie, he was convicted. There is a contrast on how a justice system founded on honesty, truth and the American way treats two similar but distinct individuals.
Sure, the set-up I cited happened in America, but these things do happen in our own courts since our justice system and our penal laws are patterned after that of the U.S. It is sickening to know there are people who cry for truth and justice. Unless and until we find a reasonable solution on what ails the system, the cases involving people like Williams will always be a riddle to be solved.