His mother is 94 years old and lives in Mississippi, far from Detroit, where she currently lives. But for 37 many, many reminded the woman of something she did not want to hear, much less believe: that her son, Walter Forbes, 63, was a murderer as determined by the Michigan Justice in 1983, when he entered the prison for the first time until last November. He was imprisoned for almost four decades for a crime he had not committed. The testimony of a woman was key and angular for her to end up behind bars.
When he believed that he would die in prison, separated from his closest ones, Forbes’ life took an unexpected turn. In 2017 the same woman whose statement was essential to sentence him approached the court to tell the truthDuring the Dennis Hall death trial, in which Annice Kennebrew claimed to have seen Forbes at the crime scene.
It all started when the convict, who was 26 years old at the time, went to a bar in Michigan and a fight broke out. The fighting was brutal, to the point that the next day Hall drew a gun and fired at Forbes. Weeks later, on July 12, a fire would kill the attacker. It had been intentional and investigators placed the 26-year-old who was a full-time student at Jackson Community College as the prime suspect. He had reasons for revenge, they argued. He was arrested at his home.
In May 1983 he was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison despite desperate attempts to prove his innocence. Conclusive had been the testimony of Kennebrew who said that he had seen the defendant in the Maple Street building. Now, time later and with wounds in his soul that will never heal, Forbes regained his freedom. The star witness admitted to having completely made up her story. Additionally, evidence emerged that the fire may have been part of an insurance fraud scheme orchestrated by the owner of the building where the fire occurred, David Jones.
Kennebrew had claimed to see three men – among whom was Forbes – starting the fire in the centennial building. The other two implicated by the woman were released by lack of evidence that tied him to the homicide. The condemned man, according to the prosecutors, had every reason to take revenge. In 2017, the witness finally told the truth: she had never seen the accused at the scene of the incident. She said that “she had falsely implicated Mr. Forbes because she had been intimidated into doing so by two local men who knew her in the neighborhood and who had threatened to harm her and her family” if she did not do so, according to the document accessed by the Detroit Free Press newspaper.
“I felt that all the possibilities that I was working on during all those years were coming true. I didn’t think it would take that long, but the patience was worth it. Even though it took forever, I’m still thankful that she did the right thing, that she finally told the truth, ”Forbes said.
The Justice could have had indications that indicated that Forbes could be innocent in 1990. It was when Jones was condemned for the intentional arson of another building of his property to collect the amount of the insurance. Had he done the same thing eight years earlier? For that fire that ended up condemning Forbes, the owner collected the policy and received more than 50 thousand dollars, well above the market value. He had bought the property more than eight years before the fire, but only insured it two months before the incident.
Now, Forbes tries to move forward from the internal strength that gave him 13 thousand days and nights in the darkness of prison. He takes it easy and a little humorous. Especially since the world he came out to is very different from the one that last saw him released in 1983. “I could spend half an hour solving on a smartphone what takes another person 20 seconds. I miss calls. I still don’t know how to operate it.
Now he just hopes to be reunited with his mother who lives in Mississippi. It still hasn’t for one simple reason: fears that the COVID-19 outbreak could ruin the reunion. He waited 37 years, he can wait a few more weeks to be safe.
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