Walter Forbes had enrolled in drafting technology classes at a Jackson, Mi., community college in hopes of jump-starting a career in real estate development. That ended when he was arrested at age 25 in connection with an arson death. In 2017, a witness admitted that she had lied on the stand after being threatened. A prosecutor decided not to pursue a new trial, freeing Forbes, now 63, after 38 years behind bars, reports the New York Times. Black people, including Forbes, comprise nearly half of the more than 2,700 people exonerated since 1989, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Because of coronavirus, after nearly four decades in a prison cell, Forbes spent his first night of freedom quarantined in a hotel room.
His ordeal began in 1982, when Forbes stepped in to stop a fight involving a man named Dennis Hall. Hall shot Forbes the next day in a parking lot. When Hall died a month later in a fire that the authorities believed was arson, suspicion fell on Forbes. Investigators were told that the building’s owner had paid someone to start the fire in an insurance-fraud scheme. Annice Kennebrew, a 19-year-old mother of two, told police that Forbes was one of three men she saw set fire to Hall’s apartment building. Charges were dropped against one of the men after he passed a polygraph test, said Imran Syed of the Michigan Innocence Clinic. Another was acquitted. Forbes was sentenced to life without parole. Forbes, who maintained his innocence, connected with Syed. “It took us 10 years to get to this point,” Syed said. “Despite how long it took, it’s a straightforward case. And that’s the tragedy of it, really: that it takes 38 years to set right something that’s not terribly complicated.”