Imagine, for a moment, being falsely accused of a crime. A BIG crime… Murder. Imagine being 18 years old, and being arrested for a crime you didn’t commit. Imagine the prosecutor offering you a plea deal to possibly get you out of prison in 25 years or so if you just admit to killing a man you didn’t kill, but telling you that if you plead Not Guilty, you’ll go to prison for the rest of your life. Imagine being a poor, black kid who can’t afford a good lawyer… so you get assigned a public defender who is working on his first murder case. Imagine thinking that there’s no way you could be found guilty for something you didn’t do… And then, as the trial goes one, being not so sure. And then imagine hearing that word… “Guilty.” Followed by a word which–until that moment–had always been a word you had loved… “Life.”
For a man named CYRUS WILSON, this situation was not at all imaginary. It happened… And it is STILL happening, as 24 years later, he is still sitting in a prison cell for a crime he didn’t commit. Here is the timeline of the case:
July 20, 1992–Cyrus Wilson is robbed at gunpoint by Christopher “Crip” Luckett. His car is stolen and stripped of its rims, tires, and stereo. Cyrus tells a police officer about the robbery, but is told that since he is a minor, he can’t press charges. His mother doesn’t press charges either. After the car was found a few days later, it was towed to his aunt’s house in North Nashville… Inoperable. It never got fixed.
September 15, 1992–The body of Christopher Luckett is found near the Edgehill housing projects in South Nashville under a chainlink fence, shot in the face with a shotgun. Police question juveniles in the area, and Rodriguez Lee (who was 16 at the time) gives them conflicting testimonies. He says that he saw Cryus and his best friend Benji pull up in Cyrus’ car, pull a shotgun out of his trunk, and chase down and kill “Crip” Luckett… Despite the fact that Cyrus’ car was unable to be driven… And despite the fact that Benji was in a Juvenile Detention Center on the night of the murder. Even though the detectives realized Rodriguez Lee’s story couldn’t possibly have been true, they continued focusing their investigation on Cyrus because of what happened with Luckett stealing his car.
When they interviewed Lee later, this time he said he was with Cyrus and Rashime Williams (Cyrus’ 17 year old cousin), and they chased Luckett down together, and that Cyrus was the one who killed him. Rashime is pressured into testifying against his cousin under fear of going to prison himself. You can read many more details RIGHT HERE.
September 18, 1992–Five days after his 18th birthday, Cyrus Wilson is arrested for criminal homicide. He waives his right to have an attorney present during questioning, because he felt like he didn’t need one if he’s innocent. There is no forensic or scientific evidence against Cyrus, but they build a case based on the testimony of Rodriguez Lee, Rashime Williams, and a person named Marquis Harris, who testified that he witnessed the murder from a window at his house (even though it was later proven he could not have seen the crime scene from his window). Cyrus Wilson spends a year and a half in jail waiting for the trial to begin…
January 31, 1994–Cyrus Wilson’s trial begins. He is assigned a public defender, who is defending his first murder case. At the trial, Rodriguez Lee testifies that he never saw Cyrus on the night of the murder… They clear the courtroom, and the prosecuting attorney tells him that he is close to perjuring himself. When the jury returns, Lee returns to the agreed-upon story of seeing Cyrus shoot Luckett with a shotgun he was given by Lee.
February 1, 1994–Cyrus Wilson is sentenced to life in prison. He is still there today. He has always maintained his innocence…
And even though the trial ended, the quest for justice has not. In 2008, Wilson’s family got their hands on a signed note written by the prosecuting attorney that admitted to the fact that the witnesses were unreliable. It said, “Good case but for most of Ws (shorthand for witnesses) are juveniles who have already lied repeatedly.” The family tried to use the note to get Cyrus a new trial, but in 2012 the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the note wasn’t admissible as evidence, and wasn’t enough to grant him a new trial. After that ruling, both Rodriguez Lee AND Rashime Williams have signed sworn affidavits saying that they lied in their testimony about Cyrus Wilson. You can see copies of their affidavits HERE. In addition, Marquis Harris wrote a letter to the family apologizing for his role in Cyrus Wilson’s wrongful conviction. To top it all off, a forensic scientist has testified and found that the shotgun shells found at the scene of the murder DO NOT match the ballistics of the shotgun to which Cyrus Wilson had access… Information that was not made available to the jury at the time of the trial. <–And that right there is a sentence that I want to end with about 100 exclamation points. You can see the forensic report RIGHT HERE.
So let me summarize:
- Cyrus Wilson was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison–with NO physical evidence connecting him to the murder other than the testimony of juveniles who had lied many times before, and whom the prosecuting attorney admitted were unreliable witnesses.
- Both of the main witnesses have signed sworn affidavits saying that they lied about their testimonies in the case, and that they were PRESSURED into testifying against Cyrus Wilson for fear of being blamed for the murders themselves.
- Ballistics tests on the shotgun shells found at the murder scene show conclusively that the shells were NOT fired from the shotgun to which Cyrus Wilson had access.
- Cyrus Wilson has been incarcerated for over 24 years of his life, convicted of a crime he did not commit.
If your reaction is anything like mine, you’re probably thinking, “There is no way… That can’t POSSIBLY be true!” That’s what I thought too, because we want to believe we are living in a just society. But our society is only as Just as we DEMAND that it be. If people want to argue that these facts don’t necessitate setting him free, fine… Argue that. But at least–AT THE VERY LEAST–these facts necessitate him getting a new trial.
So what can we do?
Please listen… If you’re anything like me, this election has left you with a renewed sense of how nearly impossible it is to change things. I have dreams of changing the world, but in reality I can’t even change the mind of some dip stick on Facebook who thinks that Snopes is part of a vast, liberal conspiracy. We can try to encourage people to vote for honest, competent people of integrity… But in the end, my vote counts the same as a vote of the lady who thinks that man-made global climate change is a lie invented by Obama and his Muslim friends to take our attention away from how vaccines cause autism. There are problems that are too big for any one of us to solve… Probably too big even for a whole lot of us working together to solve in one lifetime. We can work against systemic racism. We can struggle against sexism. We can speak up for equal rights. We can fight against the injustice of our criminal “justice” system. We can speak out against a broken and archaic religious theology that paints God as a monster who is going to have the vast majority of the human race tortured for all eternity. We can stand up for the rights of the poor, and aspire to end the drastic economic inequality in the world. But none of these problems are going away… At least not any time soon.
But here is one thing we CAN change: We can make a hell of a lot of noise about a man spending nearly a quarter of a century in prison for a crime he DIDN’T commit. I had never heard anything about this case before… until last week a friend mentioned it while talking with our Church about racism. And I’m betting most of you haven’t heard about it either. I called the office of Glenn Funk, the Davidson County District Attorney, to ask what they are doing about this clear injustice. A nice enough guy named Ken Whitehouse (who handles media relations) told me that they are reviewing a number of cases. I asked if there was any idea how long that process might take, and he said he didn’t know. I asked if public pressure had any effect on that process, and he assured me that they carefully review all the cases and that they don’t want an innocent man behind bars. I want to assume that is true, but if Cyrus Wilson has been wrongly imprisoned for his entire adult life, there is probably going to be a significant financial settlement involved in trying to make that right… And there are probably some pretty powerful people who don’t want that to happen. But I believe that if we make enough noise about this, it will be impossible for them to ignore any longer.
It is easy right now to let myself feel cynical and hopeless. But there is a man sitting in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He has a family. He has been there for 8800 days, and every extra day he spends in prison is one day WAY too many. So please–PLEASE help me spread the word. Share this post. If you are on Twitter, you can tag Glenn Funk (@DavidsonCoDA) and demand that he reopen the case. Give the Davidson County D.A.‘s office a telephone call. Their number is (615) 862-5500. Call them up and ask them how many days are too many for an innocent man to be sitting in a jail cell. People started a Change.org petition a couple years ago, but only 712 people signed it… I KNOW there are more than 712 people out there who care about an innocent man rotting away in Riverbend Prison for doing nothing more than being poor and black. Tell people about Cyrus Wilson’s story. Let it make you angry… and let that anger spur you into action. Share this. Like “FreeCyrusWilson” on Facebook. Make some noise. Especially if you live in Middle Tennessee, but even if you live in another state… We might not be able to change the world, but we can change the world for one person.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.