Willie Williams sues Jacksonville Police for 44 year wrongful conviction and imprisonment

Jacksonville, Florida detectives allegedly fabricated and suppressed evidence of Willie Williams’ innocence by concealing and destroying records of their use of hypnosis on the key witness.

Mr. Williams, a Black man, was wrongfully imprisoned 44 years, and forced to do slave-like prison labor in chain-gang shackles.

JACKSONVILLE – Willie Williams, who spent almost 45 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit today against the City of Jacksonville, Duval County, and Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office detectives.

The detectives allegedly framed Mr. Williams by suppressing and destroying exonerating evidence, manufacturing fake evidence, including using junk “science” to wrongfully convict him. No physical evidence ever connected Williams to the crime and he consistently maintained his innocence throughout the decades.

Williams, was arrested at age 31, was released on early parole at age 75 in 2020, and was finally exonerated earlier this year at age 79.

The primary evidence used to wrongfully prosecute Mr. Williams at his 1976 trial was testimony from one of the victims, who was hypnotized by Jacksonville detectives. At the time of Mr. Williams’ trial, courts had already held that use of hypnosis to produce testimony was a violation of defendants’ due process rights. The police’s use of hypnosis was never disclosed to Mr. Williams, his counsel, or prosecutors at the time. Hypnosis has long been discredited and considered “junk science.”

Due to illegitimate evidence and statements fabricated by Jacksonville detectives, Mr. Williams was wrongfully convicted of attempted murder and armed robbery and sentenced to life in prison in 1976. He was finally exonerated in 2024 after the Florida State’s Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit discovered that detectives used hypnosis to obtain the key witness’s identification and withheld and destroyed evidence of the hypnosis session.

Jacksonville sheriff’s deputies aggressively pursued Mr. Williams’ conviction despite knowing of significant evidence that pointed to the guilt of another man, who committed suicide shortly after committing the crimes. In order to secure Mr. Williams’ wrongful conviction, the deputies hypnotized one of the victims who had suffered severe head injuries in the attack. Only after the hypnosis did the victim testify that Mr. Williams was the shooter.

Jacksonville detectives withheld and destroyed exculpatory evidence, including the fact that the victim had been hypnotized prior to making his identification and that there was an audio recording of the hypnosis session. The “evidence” of the victims’ alleged identification under hypnosis was a report written by the officers, implying that the victim made this identification confidently.  The use of hypnosis to produce the alleged identification wasn’t discovered until the Fl. State’s Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit re-investigated the case in 2021.

Mr. Williams’ path to exoneration began when the Florida State’s Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit re-investigated the case and the Florida Innocence Project took him as a client. Finally, on January 3rd of this year, nearly five decades after Williams was wrongly convicted, a judge quickly vacated the convictions of robbery and attempted murder.

During his half century of wrongful incarceration, Mr. Williams was forced to do manual labor in harsh and inhumane conditions. According to today’s lawsuit,

“Throughout his time in prison, Mr. Williams  also was forced to work without pay or other privileges. At times, he undertook this compelled labor at serious risk to his health and safety. For example, at the beginning of his sentence Mr. Williams was assigned to a chain-gang for six months. During that time, he worked in roadside ditches, fully shackled. The ditches were also teeming with wild snakes, which Mr. Williams had to take care to avoid on top of the already heavy manual labor he was forced to complete. Armed guards would also shoot at these snakes, which added yet another element of physical danger and psychological distress.  In another example, Mr. Williams was forced to work at the prison infirmary where he regularly cleaned up blood and other biohazards without being provided any personal protective equipment by the prison. As a result of the exposure to infected blood and lack of PPE, Mr. Williams suffered injuries.”

“While nothing can return the 44 years that Willie lost, this lawsuit is a step towards justice and vindication for Willie and his loved ones,” said Jon Loevy, one of Williams’ attorneys at Loevy + Loevy. “Willie should get justice as swiftly as he was wrongfully convicted.” 

Mr. Williams missed out on the lives of his family members and friends. While he was incarcerated he lost his mother, father, sister, wife, three aunts, and 2 nephews. He was also denied the opportunity to attend their funeral services.

“Willie has suffered a grave injustice and lost much of his life as a result of police misconduct. This is an opportunity for the city of Jacksonville to make amends and right the wrong it has committed,” said Paul Wright, executive director of the Lake Worth, Florida based Human Rights Defense Center.

In today’s lawsuit, Mr. Williams is represented by Jon Loevy and Lauren Carbajal of the Chicago-based civil rights law firm Loevy and Loevy, as well as  Joshua Martin and EJ Hurst of the Human Rights Defense Center.

Loevy + Loevy is one of the nation’s largest civil rights law firms, and over the past decade has won more multi-million-dollar jury verdicts than any other civil rights law firm in the country.

The Human Rights Defense Center is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that advocates on behalf of the human rights of people held in U.S. detention facilities. HRDC publishes the widely regarded monthlies, Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News.

A copy of today’s suit, Willie Williams v. Charles David Ritchey, W. J. Mooneyham, D.R. Starling, the Estate of James Geisenburg, the Estate of Bryant Randolph Mickler, Hugh Fletcher, the City of Jacksonville and Duval County, Case No. 24-cv-00367, can be found here.

Royalty-free photos (credit to Willie Williams) available here:

Willie Williams high school graduation photo
In prison, Willie Williams during a family visit

Press Releases

Take Action Today

To discuss your case with an experienced civil rights attorney, contact our firm today for a free and confidential consultation at 888-644-6459 (toll-free) or 312-243-5900.

Our Impact

Read the latest blog posts, articles, and writings from Loevy + Loevy’s attorneys and staff.

Loevy & Loevy has won more multi-million dollar verdicts than perhaps any other law firm in the country over the past decade. 

We take on the nation’s most difficult public interest cases, advocating in and outside the courtroom to secure justice for our clients and to hold officials, governments, and corporations accountable.

Scroll to Top