JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) - A Missouri state judge has set aside the murder conviction of a man who spent 20 years in prison, finding that prosecutors withheld evidence favorable to his defense.
Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Richard Green ruled in favor of Anthony Williams on Wednesday. Green ordered Williams released if prosecutors decline to retry to the case within 15 days.
Williams, 34, has been in prison since he was 14. He was convicted in 1995 and sentenced to life without parole for the Dec. 31, 1993 shooting death of Cortez Andrews.
The evidence included statements from witnesses that would have contradicted witnesses for the prosecution, the fact that the victim's twin brother identified another person as the shooter at the scene, and recordings of 911 calls made that night.
Judge Green declined to rule on Williams' innocence, but found that the prosecution violated his rights to exculpatory evidence, citing the U.S. Supreme Court's Brady v. Maryland
"The government's failure to disclose this evidence undermines this court's confidence in the jury's verdict," Green wrote. "Anthony might not be in prison today had the government abided by its duty to disclose all of this information to the defense more than two decades ago."
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce told St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the Missouri Attorney General's office handled the appeals and she did not learn about the decision until Thursday.
"While this case predates my tenure as circuit attorney, conviction integrity is of the utmost importance to me. I will thoroughly review the case and the judgment and determine what appropriate actions shall be taken," Joyce said in a statement.
Hope Whitehead, now in private practice, led Williams' prosecution and was assisted by Barbara Peebles.
"They all took the jury stand and were subject to cross-examination by Mr. Niehoff," Whitehead told the Post-Dispatch. "I do not know why the judge reached the conclusion that he did."
Peebles, who is now a St. Louis associate circuit judge, could not be reached for comment.
"This rarely happens - where a murder case ... is set aside," Williams' attorney Terence Niehoff told the newspaper. "A judge has to be pretty convinced that the evidence would have had a significant impact."