Man awarded $3.25M after rape conviction overturned

RALEIGH — A North Carolina man awarded $3.25 million in a settlement for the 24 years he spent in prison for a rape he didn’t commit likely will continue to live simply, as he has done since he was paroled in 2012, his attorney said Thursday.

The Hickory City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the settlement with Willie Grimes, who was sentenced in July 1989 to life for two counts of first-degree rape and nine additional years for one count of second-degree kidnapping for the assault of 69-year-old Hickory woman in 1987.

He was paroled in May 2012 after the state Innocence Inquiry Commission unanimously agreed that enough credible evidence existed to refer Grimes’ case to a three-judge panel. That panel later declared that Grimes was innocent, as the now 69-year-old man had always maintained.

Grimes is “a man of faith, and he lives simply, and I think he will continue to live simply,” attorney Burton Craige said. Grimes didn’t want to comment, Craige said.

Grimes refused to participate in prison programs that could have helped him reduce his sentence because he would have had to acknowledge guilt and express remorse, another attorney, Chris Mumma of the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence, has said.

When the commission started investigating, almost all the physical evidence in the case had inexplicably disappeared although no one found a court order to destroy it. All that remained were fingerprints found on bananas in the victim’s home. The victim, who has since died, told investigators that her attacker took fruit from a bowl in the kitchen of her apartment before he left.

An analyst testified before the innocence commission in April 2012 that the fingerprints matched a different man, who had a lengthy criminal record of misdemeanors, including assault on a female.

The physical evidence presented at trial was that of a hair that the State Bureau of Investigation only identified as being “microscopically consistent” with Grimes. Friends testified that Grimes was with them when the victim was raped.

He sued the city and various officials in 2014, leading to mediation that resulted in the settlement agreement. The city will pay $2,250,650, with the city’s insurance carrier, National Casualty, responsible for the remaining $999,350.
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