Louisiana man is freed after new evidence uncovered in 1977 attempted rape conviction
A judge ruled Monday that a Louisiana man who has been fighting to clear his name for decades did not get a fair trial in 1977. The ruling came 44 years after Vincent Simmons was convicted of attempted aggravated rape of twin 14-year-old sisters.
Judge Bill Bennett ordered a new trial, but the district attorney said he will not retry Simmons, meaning Simmons is now a free man after decades in prison — three days before he turns 70 years old.
"I find that the time limitations have been overcome by the allegations of new evidence and in the interest of justice," Bennett said Monday, adding that he was expressing "no opinion" on Simmons' guilt or innocence.
Simmons tried at least 16 times over the years to get a new trial, maintaining that he is innocent and did not receive a fair trial. His court hearing Monday afternoon in Marksville, Louisiana, came after CBS News uncovered new evidence — including potentially game-changing information that was never heard by the jury. Simmons has been trying for the last 30 years to get a judge to hear it.
For one, Simmons found a medical examination report where a doctor stated that one of the alleged victims was a virgin, even though she said she was raped. The doctor who examined them also indicated there were no signs of a sexual assault on either of the girls. The exam was conducted two weeks after the girls said they were raped.
Another piece of evidence that was never heard by the jury was the girls' testimony to the sheriff about their alleged attacker. They say they initially told police they didn't know who he was, and the record shows they said he was Black and that "all Black people look alike" — and even used the N-word.
That testimony, which experts believe could have been exculpatory at trial, was never shared with the defense, according to one of the defense attorneys. But prosecutors say Simmons' defense team had access to the full prosecution file.
Simmons' current attorney, Justin Bonus, described his client's frame of mind as he prepared for Monday's court hearing.
"He's happy and thankful and praying, but he doesn't know what's going to happen," Bonus told CBS News' lead national correspondent David Begnaud. "The fact that he's not angry … that's the thing about Vincent. If I was Vincent, I'd be angry. He's not angry. He forgives them because he knows vengeance isn't his."
The sisters, now 59 years old, were also at the courthouse Monday — the first time since the 1977 trial that they went to a court hearing for Simmons.
As they told CBS News last week in their first in-depth interview, they continue to insist they are the victims and that Simmons is guilty.
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