Cedric Willis had every reason to live. In 1994, when he was 19, the Mississippi man was wrongfully convicted in a rape and murder case, though the witness couldn’t even agree on the details of the crime.
Willis would ultimately spend 12 years in jail and like so many other wrongfully convicted men, he’d do some of those years in solitary confinement. After being freed by the Innocence Project in 2006, Willis returned to Mississippi where he was killed just two blocks from his home by an unknown assailant.
The Innocence Project New Orleans confirms that Cedric Willis, 44, was found dead on June 24, on the street in his Jackson, Mississippi, neighborhood.
In 2006, the Innocence Project New Orleans helped exonerate Willis, who had been working as a motivational speaker before he died.
In 1994, when he was 19, Willis was arrested shortly after the birth of his son, accused of raping a woman during an armed robbery and murdering a man during a separate incident.
Despite initially giving completely contradictory descriptions of the suspect, the victims falsely identified Willis as the perpetrator.
He long professed his innocence, but Willis wouldn’t be freed until 2006, after he was awarded a second trial and a judge cleared him of any wrongdoing.
While in custody, Willis spent four years in solitary confinement.
“Cedric was very shy and very wary,” attorney Emily Maw of Innocence Project New Orleans told the Clarion-Ledger, recalling their first meeting. “He’d come to the point where he didn’t really trust or believe anyone remembered that he was there except his mom and his family.”
“It took a while for him to trust that we were going to stick around and get this done,” she said.
“He was a very low-key guy dealing with an awful lot: the unimaginable wrong and pain he suffered and the difficulty of being a black man in Jackson, Mississippi,” Maw added.