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Wrongly accused man free after 25 years

  • Story Highlights
  • Willie Green had been serving 33 years to life for woman's killing, burglary, robbery
  • "Good Friday arrived early for my husband," Mary Green says
  • Key witness recently recanted his story
  • Green says he doesn't hold a grudge against anybody
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From Stan Wilson
CNN
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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Willie Earl Green walked out of a California courtroom as a free man Thursday after serving nearly 25 years in prison for the execution-style murder of a Los Angeles woman, which he insists he never committed.

A Los Angeles judge set the graying 56-year-old free after ruling that the prosecution's star witness, Willie Finley, lied to a jury during key portions of his original testimony. Finley recently recanted his story.

Green, who earned a college degree while at California's San Quentin State Prison, said he was "humbled" by his release.

"Today is a glorious day," he said. "It's a great day. I never gave up on this day. I knew one day this day would come.

"I never asked for mercy. I only asked for justice to be served, and it was served today."

"Good Friday arrived early for my husband," said Green's wife, Mary. Video Watch Green embrace his wife as a free man »

Green had been serving 33 years to life for the murder, burglary and robbery of Denise "Dee Dee" Walker, 25, at a Los Angeles crack house in 1983.

Based on Superior Court Judge Stephen Marcus' ruling, Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Hyman Sisman told the court, his office would not pursue a new trial.

After his release, Green and his wife embraced.

"It's real," she said as her husband's eyes teared up. "I'm fine now. This is the second best day of my life. The best was the day I married you."

In February, Green proclaimed his innocence to CNN's documentary unit during an interview inside his prison cell at San Quentin.

"I was once a freedom marcher in Mississippi fighting for civil rights and social justice during the Martin Luther King Jr. era," he said. "I would never ponder harming anyone, let alone kill a human being, after spending my early life fighting for nonviolent social change the way King taught us."

Walker was killed August 9, 1983. According to court documents, the single mother had been preparing crack cocaine in Finley's kitchen when a man dragged Finley inside the home after pistol-whipping him on a sidewalk.

Within moments, a second intruder entered a back door of the apartment with a sawed-off shotgun. Finley testified that the newcomer beat him again with the shotgun. After stealing money from a bedroom, the second intruder returned to the kitchen, exchanged weapons with his accomplice and left, according to court documents.

Moments later, Finley testified, he heard the first suspect yell to Walker, "you're the only one who knows me," followed by multiple shotgun blasts. But instead of calling for help as Walker lay dying with multiple gunshot wounds to the chest, Finley scoured his house for drugs the gunmen missed, documents state.

A month later, Finley was arrested and charged with selling drugs. At that time, police showed him mug shots of possible suspects in the Walker case, but Finley was unable to identify anyone.

According to court documents, the case appeared stalled until Walker's mother told police that her daughter had been the victim of an assault and robbery a year earlier. Two men had been arrested in that case: Willie Green and his cousin, who was Walker's companion at the time. Both men pleaded guilty to grand theft of a television set.

On the night of Walker's murder, Green's cousin was in prison.

Green, who had briefly lived at Walker's apartment a year earlier, told police he was in the San Fernando Valley at the time of the murder. But he also had no one to corroborate his alibi.

Detectives interviewed Finley again in jail, showing him additional photographs of possible suspects, this time including Green. By that time, Finley had been informed about Green's prior encounter with Walker and tentatively identified him as the second intruder, according to court documents. At a live lineup, Finley selected Green as the second intruder.

During his testimony, Finley identified Green as the second intruder, claiming he heard Denise Walker scream "Willie." Prosecutors cited Walker's use of the name as crucial evidence that she was referring to Willie Green, because most of Willie Finley's friends called him Doug.

However, Los Angeles police detectives found no evidence connecting Green to the crime scene, according to court documents.

In his ruling Thursday, Marcus said the relationship between Walker and Green probably played a significant role in the jury's decision to convict. Finley now says it was the primary reason he identified Green in the photo lineup.

Marcus noted that Finley had failed to reveal that he suffered from hemophilia and that his vision had been impaired after the two beatings on the day of the killing.

Marcus also said that Finley lied when he said he was not under the influence of cocaine at the time of the murder or when he was testifying.

Walker's case has never been solved.

After his release, Green said he wasn't bitter about his experience.

"I don't hate anybody," he said. "I don't hate Willie Finley for doing what he did. I forgive him, too."

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Green, who said he'd never even met Finley, said it was unfortunate that he'd spent so much time behind bars while Walker's real killers went free.

"Everybody's talking about me," he said. "But nobody's talking about the victim. She didn't get any justice. Me being locked up for 25 years didn't give her any justice." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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