OAKLAND -- For the second time in as many weeks, an Oakland man's felony conviction has been overturned after new evidence discovered by the Northern California Innocence Project proved he was innocent.
Johnny Williams, 38, who served 14 years in prison before being paroled in January, had his conviction for sex crimes against a minor overturned Friday after new DNA testing proved he did not sexually assault a 9-year-old girl in 1998.
Williams' conviction was overturned after law students and attorneys working for Santa Clara University Law School's Northern California Innocence Project and its sister organization, the California DNA Project, discovered a previously undetected DNA sample on a T-shirt the girl was wearing at the time of the assault.
A test of that sample found it did not match Williams' DNA profile, and as a result his conviction was overturned by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Larry Goodman.
Goodman's ruling Friday came two weeks after Ronald Ross, 51, was released from prison after serving almost seven years of a life term for an attempted murder conviction that was later found to be based on false testimony and sloppy police work.
Ross' case was also handled by the Innocence Project, which found that his trial was littered with questionable facts fostered by lying witnesses and an Oakland police detective's faulty investigation.
But unlike the case against Ross, the case against Williams does not have easily identifiable errors or participants who could be faulted, representatives from the DNA project said.
"This was not a case of misconduct or mistakes; nobody did anything wrong," said Cathy Dreyfuss, director of the DNA Project.
Williams was found guilty in 2000 of committing two counts of forcible lewd conduct against a child under the age of 14 and one count of attempted rape in connection to two sexual assaults over two days against a 9-year-old Oakland girl as she walked to school.
At the time of the assault, investigators from the Oakland Police Department and the Alameda County District Attorney's Office could not find any DNA samples on the girl's clothing. However, the girl wrongly identified Williams as the man who attacked her.
The girl's identification of Williams was made after her mother suggested that Williams could be the attacker because the girl said the man who assaulted her said his name was Johnny. The girl's mother suggested Williams might be the culprit because he was the only Johnny she knew in the neighborhood.
At the time of his trial, a prosecutor relied only on the girl's identification in arguing for a conviction against Williams. The prosecutor never presented the T-shirt as evidence.
Williams defense attorney, Patrick Hetrick, however, did present the T-shirt and argued that a lack of DNA proved that his client was innocent and that the girl's entire story was a fabrication.
After his conviction, Williams wrote a letter to the Innocence Project seeking assistance, and in 2000, the project began an investigation through its sister organization, the California DNA Project.
Funded with federal grant money, the California DNA Project investigates suspect convictions in which DNA could prove a defendant's innocence.
With the cooperation of the District Attorney's Office, the DNA Project did a closer analysis of a T-shirt the girl was wearing and found the microscopic DNA sample that eventually cleared Williams of the crime.
The sample was also run though national, state and local databases of DNA profiles, and no matches were found.
With the new evidence, the District Attorney's Office agreed to drop charges against Williams, and Goodman agreed to overturn the conviction.
Williams, who was already free on parole, was released from parole on Friday and is now working on having his name removed from the state's sexual predators list. Williams no longer lives in Oakland.
"This little girl, just as me, too, we are both victims of this very serious crime, and we both need the person who committed this crime to be brought and placed in prison," Williams said. "If I could, I would help the Oakland Police Department find this person."