Often, dreams have been regarded as a lubricant which drives or motivates individuals to reach their full potential. Archie Williams is a testimony of such an assertion, innocently spending almost four decades in Louisiana prison for crimes he didn’t commit. He was wrongfully prosecuted on account of rape and stabbing, but held on to his lifelong dream of one day appearing on America’s biggest stage – ‘America Got Talent’.
Williams was released last spring after 37 years in prison, and is now fulfilling one of his biggest aspirations of singing on ‘America Got Talent’.
A video of his audition went viral after the latest edition was shared with Williams among the contestants.
“I would picture myself standing there,” he said. “I have always desired to be on a stage like this, and now I’m here. Thank God. I know it’s the opportunity of a lifetime.” He wowed the entire audience with his voice.
Archie began his life sentence without probation in 1982 on the account of rape and stabbing a woman at her Baton Rouge home after the victim identified him in a photographic lineup, despite almost no complimenting evidence supporting his guilt.
Williams was just 22 when he was falsely arrested for someone else’s crime. This was despite his mother, sister, and a family friend testifying that he was at home asleep at the time of the incident.
“During the trial, none of the fingerprints at the crime scene matched mine. Three people testified that I was at home, but they wanted someone to pay,” Williams told the AGT judges.
“I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole or probation. I was imprisoned at Angola State Penitentiary and was regarded as the bloodiest prison in the United States. Hours turned to days, into weeks, into months, into years and decades. It was like a nightmare for me.”
“I couldn’t believe it was really becoming a reality,” Williams said. “I knew I was innocent. I didn’t commit the crime, but being a poor black kid, I didn’t have the financial ability to fight the Louisiana government.”
After spending 12 years in prison, Williams sends words to the Innocence Project. They sought DNA testing for Williams in 1996 when it became forensically available but had to wait for the law.
In 2009, the male DNA in the victim’s rape kit did not match Williams, but the state declined efforts to search the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) for the unidentified suspect.
Commissioner Kimble ordered that the fingerprints be submitted into the database in March 2019 and that led to a discovery of rapist, Stephen Forbes, who had committed similar sexual assaults in the same community. He was exonerated after new fingerprint technology matched another man to the incident.
During the AGT audition, Williams posits that he managed to keep his mind free. “Freedom is of the mind. I went to prison but I never allow my mind to go to prison. When I encounter dark times, what I would do is pray and sing. That is how I got peace”, he said.
“There are several innocent people at Angola – guys who have served more than 50 years. I’m happy to be exonerated finally, but I’m not free until these innocent fellows are free,” Williams, who is still fighting for justice, said.
At the AGT auditioning, Williams sang Elton John’s classic “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” However, his performance left four judges in awe including Simon Cowell who poured his heart out, saying: “Archie, I will never, ever listen to that song in the same way ever again after you sang that. It took on a whole new meaning for me.”
Cowell further told Williams that he has a really good voice, and that “this is an audition I will never forget this for the whole of my life.”