A Mississippi man who spent 12 years in prison–with four of those years in solitary confinement–for a rape and murder he didn’t commit was shot and killed just two blocks away from his home, CNN reports.
Cedric Willis was exonerated in 2006 and spent his days as a motivational speaker, encouraging local residents to vote and visiting schools to speak about his experience. So when family and friends learned of his death they were distraught.
“America hurts black men in so many ways. Two of the main ways it does that is through the criminal justice system and the utter failure to control guns,” Emily Maw, Willis’ attorney with the Innocence Project New Orleans said. “Cedric has been a victim of both and that’s particularly tragic.”
The Jackson Police Department is investigating the June 24th death as a homicide. However, they have not narrowed down on a person of interest. Willis’ mother, Elayne, said police have offered her the bare bones surrounding her son’s murder.
“The only thing I know for certain is my son is dead. He left home and he didn’t come back,” she said. “I don’t know what, or why, I don’t know anything.”
In 1997, Willis was convicted of murder and armed robbery and sentenced to life in prison plus 90 years. The victim said the suspect had a gold tooth and no tattoos, Willis however, had an arm full of tattoos and no gold teeth. He was also reportedly 70 pounds heavier than the person the described.
DNA evidence proved Willis wasn’t responsible for the rape, and prosecutors dropped those charges, but they still pursued the second robbery and murder. Willis’ DNA results which excluded him from the rape were not told to the jury.
It was years before Willis would get a new trial, but in 2006 a judge found the witness testimony inadmissible and he was released from prison. Elayne described her son as a kindhearted, while Maw said Willis was a
“He was a very low-key guy dealing with an awful lot: the unimaginable wrong and pain he suffered and the difficulty of being a black man in Jackson, Mississippi,” Maw says.