Michigan Man Exonerated After Serving Nearly Four Decades
Walter Forbes had dreams of owning a real estate development firm after graduating from Jackson Community College in the early 1980s, but those dreams were completely dashed when he was convicted of a crime he did not commit. Now, the 63-year old has been released after serving nearly 37 years in prison.
According to the Detroit Free Press, back in 1982, Forbes broke up a bar fight one night that ended up changing his life forever. Dennis Hall, a man involved in the fight, came for revenge and shot Forbes the next day. Unfortunately, Hall died in an apartment fire that appeared to be deliberately set on July 12, 1982.
Because of their recent altercation, police considered Forbes a suspect in the arson. They later arrested him at his home.
Forbes was convicted of arson and murder in May 1983 and was sentenced to life in prison. His freeing, less than a month ago, on November 20 came after the prosecution’s star witness finally admitted to fabricating her story. Evidence surfaced that the fire may have been set as part of an insurance fraud scheme orchestrated by the Maple Street building owner, which led to a retrial.
“It felt like all the possibilities that I was working on all those years were coming to fruition,” Forbes said to the Free Press. “I didn’t think it would take that long, but patience paid off.”
According to court documents, key evidence used to implicate Forbes came from Annice Kennebrew, a witness who said she saw three men, Forbes being one of them, burn down the two-story home, which was transformed into individual apartments on Maple Street.
Kennebrew’s testimony contained discrepancies, which led one of the three men to have charges against him dismissed after passing a polygraph test and the other to be acquitted. His attorney said Forbes was the only one convicted because of the perceived motive after being shot by the victim.
“Merely being arrested and charged suggests to the jury that something happened even though they should be scrutinizing the evidence and presuming innocence,” Forbes’ attorney, Imran Syed of the Michigan Innocence Clinic, told the Free Press. “No jury wants to believe that a prosecutor went through the trouble of bringing someone to trial if they’re truly innocent.”
In 2017, Kennebrew admitted she lied and that she never saw Forbes at the scene of the fire. After a judge granted an evidentiary hearing in February 2020, she testified “that she had falsely implicated Mr. Forbes because she had been intimated into doing so by two local men who knew her from around the neighborhood and who had threatened to harm her and her family if she did not implicate Mr. Forbes,” court documents read.
“Even though it took forever, I’m still grateful she did the right thing, that she did finally tell the truth,” Forbes said.
A GoFundMe has been created in efforts to help him get back on his feet, which has so far raised almost $10,000.