Louisiana Man May Get Last Chance at Freedom
A Louisiana man is at the center of story that began trending yesterday on the NBC's Today. For the first time in 40 years, Vincent Simmons was back in a courtroom at the Avoyelles Parish Courthouse in Marksville where he had been condemned to a virtual life sentence for attempted rape in 1977.
Simmons and his lawyers were granted an audience before a judge in an effort to present a witness they say can exonerate Simmons of the crime. Since numerous appeals have failed, this could be Simmons' last chance to his conviction overturned. The fact that Simmons is even getting this chance is almost a miracle.
Simmons' plight was first exposed in an Academy Award-nominated documentary called "The Farm". The film was about the Louisiana State Penitentiary, the legendary prison in Angola where Simmons has been incarcerated since he was handed two consecutive 50-year sentences. Simmons, who is Black, was convicted of the attempted rape after being convicted of the attempted aggravated rape of two White 14-year-old girls--twin sisters Karen and Sharon Sanders of Marksville. The girls' testimonies were virtually the only evidence presented at trial. There was little physical forensic evidence involved.
A follow-up documentary entitled "Shadows Of Doubt" questioned the evidence against Simmons. His advocates say Simmons' conviction was the product of racism, investigative tunnel vision, and prosecutorial malfeasance. The Avoyelles Parish District Attorney, the victims, and their supporters are sure of Simmons' guilt and resent they way they've been portrayed.
Simmons' first court appearance in Marksville was not to present the eyewitness who was discovered two years ago, but was to seek a ruling on a motion that he made on his own behalf years earlier. Simmons' is arguing that a local judge should be recused from the case because he once worked for the District Attorney's office. When a ruling is made on that motion, then another hearing will be held to determine whether or not Simmons' lawyers may present the new witness.
In a 2015 affidavit Pamela Jones claims that Simmons was with her at a bar the entire night of May 9, 1977. She also states that she spoke to investigators who said that they would contact her at a later time, but never did. She agreed to come forward because she says she's been haunted by not being able to testify all those years ago.
For now Vincent Simmons remains in prison in Angola, waiting for the wheels of justice to turn.