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.

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Leave a reply

  1. Danh Do says:

    Thank you Simon. Simon will sure is an asset for this organzation to free more innocent victims of injustice.

  2. Barbara Ziemblicki says:

    Simon Cowell, I just gained a completely new respect for you (not that I haven’t always but now so much more). Thank you for lending yourself to such a wonderful eye opening organization. They were instrumental in releasing four men here in Fairbanks, AK known as the Fairbanks Four after serving 18 years for a murder conviction that they were not responsible for. I am so glad that we have an organization that exists such as this one.

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