Derek M. Williams: Can the Scales of Justice ever be fair for a Black man in Milwaukee?
Sometimes in life you hear a story that seems hard to believe. A number of years ago a woman named Rikki walked up to me after a presentation I had done and asked if she could share her husband Derek’s story. I said of course you can. She told me that her husband had been in prison since the 1990s.
He was charged and convicted in relation to a grocery store robbery. Witnesses described the three assailants as dark skinned Black men. They made the workers in the store open the safe, they took the money and left. No one was physically harmed in any way. One of the men arrested by police implicated Derek, testifying that he was there.
Derek had alibi witnesses that his attorney never called to testify, and he did not fit the description of the men who robbed the store. The Milwaukee District Attorney made a plea deal with the man who pointed the finger at Derek. He received a ten year sentence. Derek and his co-defendant each were charged with twelve counts of armed robbery, two for each worker at the store, and after being found guilty received a sentence of 180 years in prison.
He has attempted on multiple occasions to get his sentence overturned. I believe he is innocent, and wrongly convicted. Recently an appeal was filed, and a three-judge panel ruled against him despite this being a violation of Derek’s constitution rights to a fair trial. Stating it was Derek’s own fault because he should have known that a plea deal was made with the testifying co-defendant.
I wanted to give Derek an opportunity to tell his own story in his words. This is his story.
Derek M. Williams
How many times have you heard a person say, “today justice was served?” There are even those who say, “today, we were denied justice.” Every situation is different and, in most cases, emotions are involved and take a toll. All understandable. What about when it is you though? Back in 1997 I was convicted of 12 counts of armed robbery. Separate incidents and stacked charges are the legal term.
No one was physically harmed and no lives were taken. The right to go to trial is rooted in the constitution and one should be able to exercise such a right without fear or worry of being treated any differently. Sounds good and even correct in this society we live in where democracy is mentioned daily on every news channel.
Human rights and fundamental rights come off the lips of every elected official from the top down. Is it really so? For the 12 counts of armed robbery the judge sentenced me to 15 years on each count and to be served consecutively. This is a total of 180 years handed down on a 23-year-old male.
Again, no one was physically harmed and no lives were taken. To put it in perspective hundreds of people who were convicted of some form of murder or sexual assault only receive 18% (10 years) of the sentence I received. When does society absorb this shock to the conscious and question the humanity & justification?
There is a more unheard-of side to this story, and it is the appeal process. This process where higher courts and a panel of judges are to correct the wrong and miscarriage of justice. Was I wrong in believing the courts would correct this? In the late 1990s my first appeal was sabotaged by my then appointed attorney who simply filed a “no merit” report indicating there was no need to have any appellate Court even look at my case.
With no experience or understanding of the law myself, I wrote a petition to the courts (Court of Appeals and Wisconsin Supreme Court) arguing my attorney was not being truthful with them about my case. Who am I to be listened too? A twenty-something year old Black male from the streets of Milwaukee who cannot even afford an attorney has no say in any court room. That is just being truthful. My appeal had a roadblock first with being convicted, second with having an attorney who did not even want to represent me and lastly with a court not even wanting to hear me out. Fundamental fairness, right?
Sometime in 2005, the public defender’s office read a letter l sent them about my appellate attorney not being truthful on my direct appeal and appointed “discretionary counsel.” In turn, this new attorney, who never obtained the complete file to my case filed a motion on one of the matters I pleaded with the court to look at back in the late 1990s. The right to confront an accuser/witness.
This right is so fundamental it was established back when the Constitution was first written. However, another blow was dealt to me and both the Court of Appeals & Wisc. Supreme Court agreed this right was violated but was a harmless error since another codefendant testified against me.
Now I am here in 2022 where another decision was just handed down by the Court of Appeals. The codefendant who testified against me received a 10-year sentence and made a deal with the DA. This deal I never knew about. In fact, my trial attorney and two appellate attorneys never knew about the deal. My other codefendant who did not testify and his attorneys did not know about the deal.
There is no record of the deal in nothing related to the record provided to me, which is maintained by both the court and DA. Let us not forget I have been sitting in a cell for the past 20 years. In this new motion presented to the court was that, my testifying codefendant committed perjury while giving his testimony.
The State’s chief witness perjured himself when the District Attorney (DA) asked him if they had an agreement and he denied it twice. When I discovered this lie by the two (testifying codefendant and DA) and filed a motion with the court two different courts gave two different rulings on why, justice will continue to be denied to me.
The Milwaukee Circuit Court simply ruled in the 1990s it was the practice of the court/clerk to keep all documents with the same case number together. However, this was not true at all. Then the Court of Appeals in their ruling simple said, I should have known about the deal and it was my own fault for not knowing.
There were at least five different attorneys between my other codefendant and myself who did not know about the deal or had documents about it, yet I was supposed to know. Back in the 1990s when the Court of Appeals reviewed the record they did not know.
Nowhere in any record are documents that can be identified that were made available to myself or my attorney about this deal. Is this fair? When has the DA been allowed to withhold evidence from the defense? How can the courts blame me for the mistakes made by the DA and themselves?
“I should have known” was the ruling made by the courts and they are exactly right, I should have known. The problem with that is, the DA never bothered to tell me.
Today I continue to sit in a cell wondering when will it be my turn to call before a court the proof that my trial was not fair and the guilty verdict in 1997 was tainted? Numerous attorneys have ignored my pleas for help because I cannot afford them. Elected officials admit their disappointment in the system, but they too claim their hands are tied.
Look at the commercials of those running for office and seeking your vote. When they respond to my letters, I am directed to hire an attorney and keep fighting. There is nothing easy about hiring an attorney when its $10,000 to just have one review your case.
Everybody tells me how wrong the system has done me. No one can decide to help me. Somehow and some way I will continue to push until I am heard. It is all I really ask for, is to be heard and have a court not denounce me.
If you can support my case and offer help, please contact me at: rikkiwilliams749 [@] gmail [.] com