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Timeline: Inside the case against Vincent Simmons

“Please Don’t Tell”
“Please Don’t Tell” 41:51

Twin sisters accused a Black man of attacking them in 1977, but he insists he's innocent and has been fighting ever since to clear his name.

February 17, 2022: Freedom

Vincent Simmons
Vincent Simmons enjoying his freedom in a park just three days after he was released from prison in February 2022. CBS News

Vincent Simmons was released from a Louisiana prison earlier this year after serving 44 years for attempted aggravated rape of twin sisters. He says he didn't do it. But the twin sisters say he's guilty. It all started back in 1977.

May 9, 1977: Karen and Sharon Sanders 

Karen and Sharon Sanders
Karen and Sharon Sanders  Karen Sanders

On May 9, 1977, twin sisters Karen and Sharon Sanders, then age 14, say they encountered a Black man, whom they later identified as Vincent Simmons, at a gas station in Marksville, Louisiana. They say they were with their then-18-year-old cousin, Keith Laborde, at the time and when the man asked for a ride, they say Laborde agreed.

Little California Road

Little California Road in Marksville, Louisiana
Little California Road in Marksville, Louisiana. CBS News

Karen and Sharon Sanders would later tell police that the man told them where to drive and eventually directed them to turn onto a dark, desolate road: Little California Road. It's there, they told police, that the man forced their cousin Keith Laborde into the trunk and later raped the two of them.

The secret

Karen and Sharon Sanders
Karen and Sharon Sanders Karen Sanders

The twins told "48 Hours" that eventually, the man let them go – but not before threatening them. "He told us, 'If you tell anyone, I know where y'all live. I've got friends." He said, "And I will come back," Sharon Sanders recounted to "48 Hours."

Karen Sanders said she kept the secret for two weeks until she couldn't keep it in any longer. She decided to confide in Laborde's sister. Word soon spread and the next day the twins ended up at the local sheriff's office reporting they had been raped.

May 23, 1977: The arrest

Vincent Simmons mugshot
Vincent Simmons' mugshot from May 23, 1977. Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's Department

On May 23, 1977, the day after Karen and Sharon Sanders reported being raped, Vincent Simmons, then 25 years old, was taken into custody as he walked down the street in Marksville, Louisiana.

He says he was immediately brought to the sheriff's office and placed in a lineup. Karen and Sharon Sanders, and Keith Laborde all picked Simmons out of that lineup as being the man that attacked them.

July 19, 1977: The trial begins

Avoyelles Parish Courthouse
Avoyelles Parish Courthouse in Marksville, Louisiana. CBS News

Vincent Simmons has always maintained his innocence and insists he didn't even know the twins at the time of the alleged encounter. There was also no physical evidence tying him to the crime.

Still, Karen and Sharon Sanders told "48 Hours" they are certain Vincent Simmons is the man who attacked them. And less than 60 days after he was arrested, he went on trial for two counts of attempted aggravated rape.

The car

Keith Laborde's car
The prosecution showed photos of Keith Laborde's car at trial.   Avoyelles Parish District Attorney's Office

The jury was shown a picture of the car Keith Laborde said he was driving on the night they encountered  Vincent Simmons. 

The reenactment 

Trial reenactment
The prosecution showed a reenactment of three people in the trunk and jurors were allowed to see Keith Laborde's car.   Avoyelles Parish District Attorney's Office

The jury was also shown this photo police took of Karen and Sharon Sanders and Keith Laborde reenacting how they say they fit in Laborde's trunk on the night of the attack. 

After the two-day trial, Vincent Simmons was convicted and sentenced to 100 years in prison.

The fight begins  

Vincent Simmons' booking photo
Vincent Simmons' booking photo at Louisiana State Penitentiary. Louisiana State Penitentiary

After his conviction, Vincent Simmons was sent to the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola, to serve out his sentence.

Since the day the cell door closed behind him, he began working to overturn his conviction. In 1993, 16 years after being convicted, he finally succeeded in getting a copy of the prosecution's case file and realized there was evidence that had not been seen or heard at trial, including the twins' initial statements to police where one of them, Sharon Sanders, used the N-word to refer to their attacker and said, "All blacks look alike to me."

The lineup photo

Vincent Simmons lineup photo
Vincent Simmons, second from left, is seen standing in what appears to be a lineup after he was arrested on May 23, 1977.  Avoyelles Parish District Attorney's Office

The prosecution's case file also contained this photo, which was never seen at Simmons' trial. It appears to show the lineup from which Karen and Sharon Sanders and Keith Laborde identified Vincent Simmons as their attacker. Simmons is the only one in handcuffs.

Avoyelles Parish District Attorney Charles Riddle claims the photo was taken after the lineup.  "It was a photo of the lineup after he was identified and placed in cuffs," Riddle told "48 Hours."

Karen and Sharon Sanders insist Simmons was not wearing handcuffs when they identified him.

2020: The lawyer from Brooklyn

New York lawyer makes it his mission to free Louisiana man from prison 04:37

In 2020, 43 years after Vincent Simmons' conviction, an attorney from New York City named Justin Bonus became involved in Simmons' defense. 

Bonus says he made it his mission to free Simmons.

July 30, 2020: The investigation

Dana Brouillette
Dana Brouillette during an interview with private investigator Brian Andrews. Brian Andrews

Justin Bonus hired a private investigator who tracked down and interviewed Keith Laborde's cousin, Dana Brouillette.

Brouillette had a shocking story. She said in a sworn affidavit that Laborde told her in a bar, long after the trial, that Vincent Simmons was never with Laborde and the twins on Little California Road that night. 

Instead, in the affidavit, Brouillette said that Laborde told her that "he had consensual sex with one of the girls and locked the other in the trunk." She also said that Laborde had scratches on his neck.

"He had gone down Little California Road and he locked Sharon in the trunk and he said the sex between him and Karen was consensual. He said but the other one was a little hellcat. …That's the one that put the scratches on his neck," Brouillette told the private investigator.

Brouillette told the private investigator that she believes Laborde and the twins made up the story about a Black man to explain away the scratches on Laborde's neck.

A family secret

Karen Sanders
Karen Sanders during an interview with CBS News lead national correspondent and "48 Hours" contributor David Begnaud.   CBS News

In an interview with CBS News, Karen Sanders admitted for the first time publicly that long before the alleged incident with Vincent Simmons, when she was a child and Keith Laborde was a teenager, they had consensual sex. But she said that has nothing to do with what Simmons allegedly did. 

"That's two separate incidents," Karen Sanders said.

Laborde has denied ever having sex with Karen. He told "48 Hours" they had just, "played around like children." And he also insisted that Vincent Simmons is guilty. 

February 14, 2022: Free after 44 years

Vincent Simmons
Vincent Simmons, right, with attorney Justin Bonus immediately following Simmons' release from the Louisiana State Penitentiary on February 14, 2022. CBS News

In the wake of the allegations from Dana Brouillette, attorney Justin Bonus became more convinced than ever of Vincent Simmons' innocence. He said he believes the twins and Keith Laborde lied to cover-up Keith's own misbehavior that night.

On February 14, 2022, Simmons finally got his day in court where a judge would decide his fate once and for all.

It's on that date that a judge vacated Simmons' conviction based on the evidence that he had obtained 30 years earlier and the fact that it hadn't been admitted at his trial. He was released from prison later that night.

 February 17, 2022: Simmons' 70th birthday   

Vincent Simmons
Vincent Simmons blowing out his birthday candles. CBS News

After 44 years in prison, Vincent Simmons is adjusting to life as a free man. He was 25 years old when he went to prison and walked out three days before his 70th birthday.

He is getting accustomed to new technology and is enjoying the simple things that life has to offer. "Breathin' the free air ... walkin' outside ...  basically it's freedom ...  to just enjoy the moment," Simmons told "48 Hours."  

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