Vincent Simmons says he’s spent 43 years waiting for a fair trial in Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana. According to an in-depth report by CNN, a hearing on Tuesday (January 5) may be his final chance to get one.
The hearing is to get the parish’s prosecutors in Simmons’ trial recused from the case and to get another trial, in a new jurisdiction, according to his attorneys. Simmons’ legal team also have new testimony and evidence they could present to exonerate him.
The 68-year-old is currently facing a 100-year prison sentence for a crime he says he didn’t commit. “I am innocent,” he told the news outlet over the phone. “It’s been a hell of a journey here in prison. I cannot really tell you all of what I been through here, but it’s been a nightmare.”
Simmons was 25 years old when he was convicted of the attempted sexual assault of then-14-year-old twin sister Karen and Sharon Sanders. The jury in the 1977 trial was made up of 11 white men and one Black woman, who reportedly took only minutes to find Simmons guilty.
The Black residents of Avoyelles Parish say that racism of the town has plagued the community and contributed to decades of injustice. Avoyelles is 66% white and 29% Black.
This, according to Justin Bonus, one of Simmons’ attorneys, is “a story you might hear when speaking of Jim Crow and the ‘rape myth’ involving Black men and white women that resulted in so many tragic lynchings and wrongful convictions.”
Keith Laborde, a first cousin of the twin sisters who was 18-years-old at the time of the incident, maintains that the assault happened. But, according to CNN’s report, neither he nor the sisters gave police Simmons’ name as a suspect, but they said his full name during the 1977 trial.
According to a 2017 report by the National Registry of Exonerations, a Black incarcerated person serving a sentence for sexual assault is three and a half times more likely to be innocent than a white incarcerated person convicted of sexual assault.
In 2005, Karen Sanders published a book called Raped Beyond a Shadow of Doubt, about the incident and what happened after. Both sisters were featured in a 1999 documentary Shadows of Doubt: State Vs. 85188 Vincent Simmons.
In the 43 years since his original trial, attorney advocates Laurie White and Robert Hjortsburg have filed numerous post-conviction motions against the parish’s criminal justice system.
Simmons hopes the decades of waiting, motions, will allow “the truth to prevail.”
“A second chance is appropriate for me because they didn’t have anything on me the first time, so I am entitled to a second chance. ...I just want justice and the truth to prevail.”
Bonus looks to clear Simmons using the decades of post-conviction motions and the testimony of another relative of the twin sisters who said Laborde lied about the incidents of the night of May 9, 1977.
“There is no evidence today, or presented at trial 44 years ago, that links Vincent Simmons with the alleged crime or alleged victims,” Bonus said. “These three young people at the time, to avoid embarrassment over their antics, and with the complicity of the police, prosecutors and judge, placed an innocent man in prison for 44 years, where he remains today.”
If released, Simmons says he hopes to use the rest of his life to do “something successful.”
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