LAWNDALE, N.C. -- It’s been more than two years since Willie Grimes was declared innocent of a crime he didn't commit.
The Cleveland County man was convicted of the rape and kidnapping of a 69-year-old Hickory woman in 1987 and spent 24 years in prison, but never gave up hope that he would be found innocent. It took several lawyers and his relentless determination to clear his name.
On Oct. 27, 1987, Grimes' life changed forever when he turned himself in to police after learning of a warrant for his arrest. It was a confusing time as he knew he had done nothing wrong.
“He asked me did I know what I was there for and I told him no. And he went to tell me what I was supposed to be there for and I told him no way because I never did anything,” Grimes said
Just three days earlier, investigators say a man broke into a 69-year-old woman's home and raped her, leaving dozens of fingerprints behind. The fingerprints didn't match Grimes, but the state withheld evidence during his trial, which lead to his eventual conviction.
Thanks to the help of Chris Mumma, with the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, the evidence was tested in 2011. A year later, a three-judge panel declared Grimes innocent.
Grimes isn't bitter about his time in prison. In fact, he says it shaped him into the man he is today.
“I know it’s nothing you can make up for which you have lost, but the only thing I can do is enjoy from here on out, and that’s what I’m trying to do, just enjoy myeslf,” he said.
Hear more from Grimes on his experiences, below: