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New York City to pay $7 million to Grant Williams, Wu-Tang Clan studio worker who was wrongfully convicted in 1996 killing

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New York City has agreed to pay $7 million to a man who spent 23 years behind bars for a murder he didn't commit, Comptroller Brad Lander said Monday.

Grant Williams was exonerated last July in the 1996 shooting of Shdell Lewis outside a Staten Island public housing complex. CBS New York reported the exoneration marked the first successfully overtured wrongful conviction case on Staten Island.

Williams, who is in his 50s, had been paroled in 2019. After being cleared last year, he filed a notice of claim, a first step toward suing the city. The comptroller's office has the authority to settle such claims without court action and occasionally does so, including in the 2014 police chokehold death of Eric Garner.

Wrongful Conviction-Settlement
Grant Williams, left center, is embraced by his attorney Irving Cohen after his murder conviction is vacated, July 22, 2021, in New York.  Jan Somma-Hammel / AP

"While no amount of money can bring those years back for Mr. Williams or his family, I am pleased that we were able to move quickly to a fair and early resolution of this claim," Lander, a Democrat, said in a statement.

A request for comment was sent to a lawyer who has represented Williams.

The case against Williams had rested largely on the testimony of a couple of eyewitnesses. One was a police officer who chased the gunman - and initially gave a description that didn't match Williams.

Prosecutors at his trial also sought to suggest a connection between Williams and a baseball cap that the shooter dropped at the scene, though the hat was never tested for DNA that could have pointed to its wearer. It was emblazoned with the logo of Wu-Tang Clan; Williams had worked at the multiplatinum-selling rap group's Staten Island studio.

No physical, forensic or digital evidence tied Williams to the crime, and some witnesses testified that he wasn't the gunman.

Another eyewitness, a friend of the victim's, had also told investigators that Williams wasn't the gunman. But police didn't tell prosecutors about it until after he was indicted.

"I had blacked out with the verdict. I couldn't believe it," Williams' mom, Cynthia Franklin, said last year.

Williams unsuccessfully appealed his conviction for years before Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon's office agreed to review it. Prosecutors ultimately joined Williams in seeking the dismissal of his conviction, saying they now believe he's innocent.

Williams told reporters at the time that he never lost faith that he would be exonerated.

"I used to tell everybody in prison I'm innocent," Williams said outside the courthouse. "They say, 'Oh Williams, everybody says that.' I said, 'I'm telling you the truth. One day you're gonna see me on the news and they're gonna say that I was innocent,' and today's that day."

Williams earned his associate's degree in prison and started working on a bachelor's, CBS New York reported.

He said last year he's not holding a grudge.

"I knew it was gonna happen. I never gave up," Williams said.

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