Archie Williams is a 58-year-old singer who is currently competing on season 15 of America’s Got Talent. Before his audition, Archie revealed to judges that he had spent more than 36 years of his life at a Louisiana State Penitentiary for a crime he didn’t commit.
Archie was born in the summer of 1960 and lived in Baton Rouge Louisiana with his two parents and three sisters. On the morning of December 9th, 1982, a 30-year-old woman was raped and stabbed in her home, in an affluent Baton Rouge neighborhood. Almost a month later, Archie Williams was arrested for the crime as he walked home from his aunt’s house. He would be charged with aggravated rape, attempted murder, and aggravated burglary. Archie’s trial lasted five days where he was found guilty and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. He was sent to the Louisiana State Penitentiary, nicknamed Angola because it resides on the land that was occupied by the Angola plantation.
While at Angola, Archie coached an undefeated boxing program, winning numerous Louisiana state titles. He continued with the boxing program until the mid-90’s, when he met someone inside the prison who told him about the Innocence Project, and his focus changed. 12 years into his prison sentence, Archie wrote to Innocence Project Co-Founder pleading for help saying “As the years go by I sit here year after year, it’s like no one cares.” Three months later, the Innocence Project agreed to take Archie’s case, but it would take another 23 years for him to be released.
The Innocence Project immediately identified problems with Archie’s case. Archie was included in a photo lineup shown to the victim, who did not identify him as her attacker, but she told police they should look for a suspect who resembled him. She later identified Archie as her attacker after seeing him in subsequent lineups. The victim, who is 5’ 7”, also testified that her attacker was taller than her. A neighbor who interrupted the crime, also testified that she saw a man taller than her. Archie, who stands 5′ 7′, did not fit the attacker’s description. More importantly, fingerprints left at the crime scene also did not match. The case against Archie Williams rested largely on the victim’s identification of him.
New fingerprint technology allowed investigators to match fingerprints from the scene to another man, Stephen Forbes. Forbes, who suffered from mental illness, had been arrested in 1986 after breaking into a home and attempting to sexually assault a woman less than two miles from Archie Williams was arrested. After his arrest, Forbes confessed to four other rapes between 1985 and 1986. Forbes died in 1996 without ever being questioned about the attack.
In March 2019, a motion was granted to vacate the conviction and his charges were dismissed. Now a free man, Archie Williams was 22 years old when he was arrested. Today he is 58. To add to being falsely imprisoned, Archie was also placed in solitary confinement from 1997 until his release in 2019. Archie said he believes this was retribution by warden Burl Cain, who resented him leaving the champion boxing program inside Angola.
Archie is relieved to be free but he struggles with leaving behind other innocent people serving time for wrongful convictions. “I’m not free until they’re free,” he said.
Archie recently filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking damages for his wrongful conviction. Under Louisiana law, Mr. Williams is entitled to a maximum of $250,000 for his wrongful incarceration, the equivalent of around $7,000 for every year that he was in prison
Despite the challenges ahead of him, Archie remains very optimistic. He recently enrolled in music classes at Laney College in Oakland California. He also appeared on the Steve Harvey show in May of 2019. While on the show, Archie had a chance to tell his story and also received support from Steve Harvey and one of the show’s sponsors.
After being incarcerated for nearly 4 decades of his life, it looks like music will be at the center of this new chapter. Archie recently had the opportunity to perform at the legendary Apollo Theater.
“I was in my first band when I was 12,” explained Williams, “Throughout my incarceration at Angola, I sung. I sung gospel in the church and started my own band. Music helped me get through prison. I always envisioned myself on stage at the Apollo one day.”
This past November he took third place in the theater’s famous weekly Amateur Night competition, performing Stevie Wonder’s “As.” While he didn’t win the competition, Archie said of the experience, “It’s amazing, it’s the most exciting part of my life.”
Now Archie is set to perform on an even bigger stage, appearing on the season 15 premiere of America’s Got Talent.
Before his performance, Archie said “I watched ‘America’s Got Talent’ in prison and I would visualize myself there,”
“I always desired to be on a stage like this, and now I’m here.”
For his audition, Archie performed a moving rendition of Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” Archie received a standing ovation for the performance and judge Simon Cowell said “I will never ever listen to the song in the same way after you. It took on a whole different meaning for me,” Cowell continued, “This is an audition I would never forget for the whole of my life, Archie.”
All 4 judges voted yes and Archie advanced to the next round. Archie’s next appearance on America’s Got Talent will be during the judge cuts round which will determine which acts will advance to the live shows.
Do you think Archie has what it takes to win America’s Got Talent?
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