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Exoneree files lawsuit, thanks Illinois Innocence Project

Herman Williams speaks at a recent press conference announcing his lawsuit.
Romanucci & Blandin
Herman Williams speaks at a recent press conference announcing his lawsuit.

Exoneree Herman Williams tearfully thanked attorneys from the Illinois Innocence Project during a recent press conference to announce his lawsuit against members of a police major crime task force and Lake County officials he says were responsible for his wrongful conviction for the 1993 murder of his ex-wife and his nearly three-decade prison stay.

Lauren Kaeseberg, co-director of the University of Illinois Springfield-based Illinois Innocence Project was among the attorneys he thanked by name.

In Williams' civil lawsuit he is represented by a pair of Chicago law firms. They’ve asked for a jury trial.

Kaeseberg wrote in an email, “Herman was the victim of corrupt public officials who not only violated his foundational, constitutional rights, but fabricated evidence against him. This cost him nearly 30 years of his life. Herman had a stellar and rising naval career and would have taken pride in protecting our country and all it stands for. Instead, those principles he fought to protect for all of us were so callously stripped away from him.

“Herman's two young children were forced to grow up without him, after losing their mother in a truly horrific manner. There was irreparable damage done to Herman and his family, and it is time for there to be some accountability to those who did this to him,” she stated.

The former Navy officer was arrested in 1993 after his ex-wife’s bludgeoned body was found in a pond. He was living in Gurnee at the time and was stationed at Great Lakes Naval Base. Last year, he was exonerated and released from prison after 28 years.

Antonio Romanucci, one of the attorneys representing Williams in his civil case, said, “Herman was presumed guilty from the get go, and the police and prosecution ensured that he would be found guilty. The opposite of exactly what our justice system and its constitution requires. His was an unconstitutional and unconscionable conviction. Herman's wrongful conviction was the result of fabricated confession, manufactured, manipulated and concealed evidence and false testimony by law enforcement. He finally proved his innocence in 2022, through forensic re-examination, and new DNA testing, as well as demonstration of serial misconduct by law enforcement officials involved in his case, the pain that Herman has endured cannot be described."

Williams told reporters, “This terrible tragedy didn't just affect me, what was done to me. Specifically, my children, Charlie and Crystal. For their entire lives they were without a mother and a father being told that their father killed their mother. Can you imagine that?"

“Growing up in a family torn apart by what never should have been. We were working hard to repair those damaged relationships and to make up for the lost time and complicated emotions. That work will probably continue for the rest of our lives,’’ said the 59-year-old who now lives in Arizona.

“My goal here in this civil lawsuit is justice. The people who did this to me and devastated me and my kids and my family need to be held accountable for all the years I've missed dinners, birthdays, holidays, regular days, first days of school, hard days in school, the list goes on and on. I look forward to the jury hearing all the facts. The public learning the truth about what happened to me."

"I can never get that time back. But I hope to bring some measure of balance, honor, integrity to what is and what is fair back to my family.”

Romanucci said, “ Let's make something clear now. Herman Williams is innocent. Herman Williams was always innocent. And that's a hard stop. His nightmare and 29 years of physical and psychological and mental and emotional trauma continues today, and can only somewhat be made better with the vindication of a judgment in his favor by a jury of his peers who will proclaim his innocence. He is a victim in every sense of malicious and intentional lies, exaggerations, fabrications, and suppressions of evidence."

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is news editor and equity and justice beat reporter for NPR Illinois, where she has been on the staff since 2014 after Illinois Issues magazine’s merger with the station. She joined the magazine’s staff in 1998 as projects editor and became managing editor in 2003. Prior to coming to the University of Illinois Springfield, she was an education reporter and copy editor at three local newspapers, including the suburban Chicago Daily Herald, She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University and a master’s degree in English from UIS.
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