Press Release 05.26.20

Archie Williams Inspires Simon Cowell to Become Innocence Project Ambassador

"Archie’s performance is probably the single most important one in the history of 'America’s Got Talent.'"

By Innocence Staff

America's Got Talent. Pictured: Simon Cowell hugging Archie Williams (Photo by: Trae Patton/NBC)

Simon Cowell came to know of the Innocence Project after a life-changing moment when he met a contestant on America’s Got Talent named Archie Williams. Archie, a 59-year-old man from Louisiana, had spent 36 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

Archie was convicted in 1983 at age 22 and sentenced to life without parole. The Innocence Project took up his case in the mid-’90s and fought for decades to get access to evidence that could prove his innocence, including a search of fingerprint evidence in the FBI database. Twenty-four years later, on March 14, 2019, this request was finally granted.

Within hours, the fingerprint analysis proved Archie’s innocence and seven days later he was released after all his convictions were vacated and charges dismissed.

Archie will appear on the season premiere of “America’s Got Talent” tonight on NBC at 8 PM ET/7 PM CST. Watch his story below or on Facebook. Archie’s audition was released online on Friday, May 22nd, and by Monday, over 50 million people had viewed his performance of Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”.

The Innocence Project is committed to freeing the staggering number of innocent people like Archie who have been incarcerated, as well as reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.

Today, the Innocence Project is releasing a video online that shows Simon tearing up while talking about Archie with the Innocence Project’s Co-founder Barry Scheck and Director of Post-conviction Litigation Vanessa Potkin, who represented Archie for 26 years.

Watch Simon’s conversation with Barry and Vanessa below.

The leading causes of wrongful convictions include eyewitness misidentification, false confessions, unreliable jailhouse informants, inadequate defense counsel, police and prosecutorial misconduct, and racial bias in the criminal justice system.

Simon Cowell said, “Archie’s performance is probably the single most important one in the history of America’s Got Talent. What happened to Archie is tragic. While Archie’s voice is extraordinary, unfortunately his experience of being sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit is much more common than most people realize. There are thousands of innocent people in jails and prisons. I’m honored to become an Ambassador for the Innocence Project and want to do what I can to help more people like Archie.” 

Donate to help Archie rebuild his life

“This has really opened my eyes, my family’s eyes, and my friend’s eyes to this.”

 “Archie’s story is one of courage and hope – and I hope that by knowing more about his story and the Innocence Project, it will encourage more people to support the incredible work they do. These guys don’t just talk; they actually do something about it. The Innocence Project doesn’t just change people’s lives, they save people’s lives. For them to have stuck with Archie’s case for over 20 years is remarkable. This has really opened my eyes, my family’s eyes, and my friend’s eyes to this. So, I hope some good will come from this.”

Nationwide there have been over 2,600 exonerations since 1989, more than 23,000 years lost to wrongful conviction. The Innocence Project, and an Innocence Network of now 56 organizations in the U.S., has led this movement since 1992.

Simon Cowell will be joining these other Innocence Project ambassadors: here.

Barry Scheck, the co-founder of the Innocence Project said, “As you can see from the audition, Simon’s reaction to Archie and his story was immediate, powerful, and personal. He is committed to advancing the work of the Innocence Project and the cause of criminal justice reform writ large. He will be a compelling Ambassador for our work.”

Vanessa Potkin, director of post-conviction litigation at the Innocence Project said, All too often voices like Archie’s are silenced and ignored. It takes years of fighting against all odds to overturn a wrongful conviction. For Innocence Ambassadors to use their platforms to bring attention to our cases and to bring to light the injustices of the legal system is extraordinarily impactful.”

Everyone can get involved by visiting www.innocenceproject.org.

Donate to help free more innocent people from prison.

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  1. Matt Roncaglia says:

    Does Archie do speaking engagements?
    I belong to a men’s group in Parker Colorado called “Fight Club” we are a part of Calebs Heart Ministries. We minister to men from all types of backgrounds with so many different stories. I stand in amazement with the work that the Holy Spirit is doing through Fight Club and I could only imagine the impact the a man like Archie would have on the community if he was to speak to these men! I know that it takes strong men taking a stand to make a difference! My passion is to make strong men, wich make for strong families and communities! Please respond to me in any way that you can.

  2. Tamara Rogers says:

    I have just learned of ur organization just right now. I watched Archie’s audition a short time ago and I have to say it touched me in a deep wound that I have had for almost 6 years now. I loved his voice and thought his audition was breathtaking. That isn’t what got my attention, what captured me whole heartedly was his story. I myself was involved in a similar situation. I lost just 373 days of my life for a crime I didn’t commit. But the truth is I lost my life that day. I lost everything I ever had and everything that went with it. This is nothing at all not even close to 37 years, but to me it was a lifetime. I did not kill the man that died that day in 2015 nor did i have knowledge of the crime before it happened and I did not willingly, knowingly help a crimal commit the crime as I was charged as an Accessory to First Degree Murder after the fact.
    I find comfort in telling my story and at times it gives me peace. But helping others by telling my story is what helps me feel good and makes me proud to know that I helped someone feel better or smile or they found comfort from me, or maybe I helped them to move on past a bad time in their life at that moment. This is what gives me the drive to fight another day.
    Those days are gone now, I will never get that time back not ever. I completely lost my life as if I had died and in my reality I did die. My friends abandon me, lost my kids, home, possessions, vehicle, business my life savings was stolen, my family didn’t even believe me or stand by me for the first 8 months. I was completely on my own, by myself in a place I had never been. I was terrified to say the least but i was innocent and I knew that. Of course I could sue but i am afraid of the repercussions and I wouldn’t have any idea where to even begin.
    I researched my case myself. My rights were violated over and over again and no body would listen to me, nobody. I was not allowed to talk in court and I was ignored. I didn’t have the finances for a real attorney I had a public defender that incompident and ignorant to my case. He was eventually fired before my release. I also had a conflict of interest attorney who never showed up in court. I had a prosecutor that wanted the other defindent in the case for capital murder and she needed me to do it. But i didnt know anything bcuz I wasnt there. I was arrested spent 373 days in jail and the person that actually helped the defendent commit the crime and harbored him, kept him hidden didnt get a charge at all. The surviving witness didn’t even show up to testify. A home servelience video was submitted into evidence 3 months after my arrest and it was kept secret …. I wasn’t informed until my release date. That information was kept from me. I was released on pretrial services and had another 8 months besides the 373 days i had already done. Still no formal charges no indictment just a court hearing every 30 days and the same sentence told to me by the judge .. . i am sorry Mrs. Rogers, you will not be released today, we don’t know what to do with you until after we try your co-defendant. Thank you for you’re cooperation.
    My date was always before his always and they held me all of them days. There were many reasons I should have been released but wasn’t. The video cleared me I wasn’t at the scene of the crime or no where around it. I wasnt even in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was at my home with my 4 children. I was where I was supposed to be. I was afraid for my life, I was threatened ahd held against my will. But none of that mattered even a lie detector test was given.when the prosecutor found that I really was telling the truth ahd I did not truly kno anything she got angry and became biased against me. I was treated like a murderer it was an awful ordeal . I have been wanting to somehow get my story heard. I was a single mother and did not know my rights had never been in trouble before. I was basically mislead, lied and forced to keep quiet and just ignore the fact that I was innocent. They needed more time and refused to release me for fear that I would not testify for the prosecution if the defendent got to me.
    Truth was i couldn’t testify anyways because I was telling the truth and did not have any knowledge at all about the crime bcuz I was mot there and the video I dod not know about proved that.
    March 2017 i got a new public defender mine had been fired. After 30 days or so he came to see me and within 2 werks I was released no questions. They could not legally keep me I was supposed to be given probation after the first 30 days and was not. I was supposed to been freed after no charges were filed and was not. They held me because they could. All I wanted was for no other single mother who was the only custodial parent and support for her children to be treated unfairly for not knowing her rights ever again. My kids all 4 of them have suffered just as much or more than I have. 2 of them are with me. 1 of them doesn’t reside with me right now but is in my life. My youngest was adopted by another family. My life has been hard and it has taken me 5 years to begin again. I am proud of myself for coming so far and of the woman I am today, the woman I have become. The strength and fight I had and continue to havevtoday that I did not eben kno existed. I am excited to have found your organization, to kno that there are people that care and they re are others with a story to tell one that may help another person want to keep fighting for themself and for their life. Life is so very short and can’t be taken for granted as it can change in the blink of an eye and never be as it once was. That is facts that is what happened to me. It is not fair that so many innocent people are the victim and the victim has no choice to talk, nobody to listen or talk for us. I just want to be heard thats all I hate ever wanted.
    Archie’s story gave me chills, I had goosebumps all iver my body. It has inspired me, woken up a part of me that has been locked away for almost 6 years. A part of me that needs to be heard that needs to be released.
    I want to be part of your organization in some way, I want to be heard and acknowledged by the state and the people that chose to dictate, steal and control my life for the 373 days plus 8 months pre trial services for the crime that I did not commit nor had any knowledge of. I did not even get the right to see my own discovery. My rights were taken, I had no rights.
    I don’t know if anyone in your organization can help me be heard or help me in anyway.
    But I want to be involved in your organization, I love what an amazing thing you all are doing for others. Hats off too each and everyone involved. Thank you very much for your time. I do apologize for saying so much. I hope to hear from someone soon. I pray I am blessed to be involved as well.
    I also want Archie to kno that I would love to getvyhe opportunity to hear more about him and how far he has come and what his hopes and dreams are for his future. You are an inspiration sir and i will be praying for you and hope to also hear from you as well
    Congratulations on your freedom

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