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Cedric Willis shot dead after spending 12 years in prison for a crime he did not commit



"He was working out, he was feeling good," says Emily Maw, his attorney with the Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO). (19659002) On June 24, Willis was shot and killed in his Jackson, Mississippi, near , two blocks from his home. The Jackson Police Department did not say whether they had a suspect or provided any information on the grounds.

CNN has attempted to reach the department multiple times but has not received a response.

His mother, Elayne Willis, said the police had visited her last week and told her the incident was still under investigation

"The only thing I know for sure is my son is dead. back, "she told CNN. "I do not know what, why, I do not know anything."

Willis was the country failed again and again, Maw says.

"America hurts black men in so many ways."

"America hurts black men in so many ways.

DNA evidence, mistaken eyewitnesses

In the summer of 1

994, Willis was 19 and celebrating the birth of his son, CJ, when he was arrested and accused of a rape of a woman in an armed robbery

The two robberies, and three others committed in Jackson at the time, had similar patterns and evidence showed that the same gun had been used. Victims gave similar descriptions of the perpetrator, IPNO said.

The suspect, the victims said, had a gold tooth and no tattoos, IPNO said, but Willis had no gold teeth and his arms were inked. He was also 70 pounds heavier than their descriptions, according to IPNO.

However, victims of both robberies later identified Willis as the perpetrator

.

At the trial, the jury did not hear about the DNA testing that excluded Willis from a robbery and the rape

"Eyewitnesses are so often wrong. "In the forensics that were excluded, that point in another direction from eyewitness identification, that's an enormous red flag," Maw said.

 Cedric Willis and IPNO attorney Emily Maw
Willis was sentenced to death in prison and sentenced to life in prison by 90 years, according to the Life After Exoneration Program

"They knew they had the wrong man and they prosecuted him any way," Maw said.

Willis was taken to the Mississippi State Penitentiary, where he was kept in solitary confinement for four years, according to

His time in prison, Maw says, was particularly difficult because he suffered from epilepsy and often had blackouts and seizures.

Willis' request for a new trial went ignored for years, the registry reports.

IPNO heard about WIllis' case in 2004 and 2005, after the nonprofit law office's request, he was granted a new trial.

"Cedric was very shy and very wary," Maw says of when the two first met. "He would come to the point where he did not really believe or believe 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.

In 2006, a judge found the previous witness testimony inadmissible, according to the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, and charges against Willis were dismissed.

On March 6, 2006, he became a free man.

A 'very low-key guy'

"He just became a father, he's not going out and killing anyone, "she said of the summer when he was arrested.

While he was in prison, Habitat for Humanity built Elayne Willis and she insisted they add one more bedroom to her son.

"I told [them] My son was coming home and I've got a room for him," she said.

That bedroom is where Willis lived after he was freed and until he died.

In the years since his exoneration, he built a strong relationship with his son and family, and even though his epilepsy often got in the way of keeping a job, Willis kept busy.

He spoke with the NAACP, Maw said. He worked with the ACLU, registering people to vote, doing what he liked to call "election protection," the attorney said.

"He was just a kindhearted, loving person trying to help people," Elayne, who has been working for his cousin and sister's kids, Willis said.

His mother said his wrongful conviction had deeply affected him, but he "never ever let it show."

"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, "says Maw.

Willis was on his way home when he was killed, his mother said.

"He gave me so much joy," she said. "And I'm just going to miss him."


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