The result of a virtual hearing held today has led to the judge issuing Albert Wilson a new trial and ordering his release from jail pending the result of the trial.
Albert Wilson was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2019 after being convicted in the rape of a 17-year-old girl he met at a Lawrence bar in 2016.
A two-day hearing, which began Monday morning, concluded this morning with Judge Sally Paokorny ordering a new trial and Wilson released on bond.
His appeal attorneys argued there was lack of evidence, including DNA evidence, improper legal counsel and a biased jury, which they said led to a wrongful conviction.
At the time of the incidence, Wilson was a student at the University of Kansas and had no prior criminal record. There was no DNA evidence in the case which came down to the alleged victim’s testimony, a young White female, against Wilsons, a Black male.
This time Wilson had new counsel. He was represented by Michael Whalen of Wichita and Josh Dubin, an associate of the Innocence Project.
“What we are trying to show is his original counsel wasn’t effective. There was evidence filed, very helpful to Albert’s case. He never looked at it. There was evidence available he could have used and didn’t even request it,” said Wilson’s attorney, Michael Whalen, ahead of the hearing.
“His own lawyer didn’t provide him the representation that he is constitutionally guaranteed. He didn’t even have to do a great job or good job. He just had to do what he was obliged to do. But he never even reviewed his own discovery,” said Flom.
Wilson’s former attorney, Forrest Lowry, testified that the new details introduced to the court would likely have led him to handle Wilson’s case differently.
Text Message Key to New Trial
Key to the judge’s decision were a number of text messages that were not brought into evidence during the original trial. During the trial, a doctor who examined the victim for her “sudden onset of PTSD,” the result of her rape, testified that the victim had never consumed alcohol before the event. However, in the victim’s text messages, that were part of the record, but never reviewed by Wilson’s attorney, there were several references to her drinking, including her own referral to herself as a “drunk 17-year-old girl.”
Five months before the incident, the victim sent a text to a male friend, apologizing to the man for being mean to him, and he responded, no problem, “you were drunk.”
One month before the incident, in response to a friend’s invitation to join them for a “pregame,” the victim responded, “should I bring my wine.”
In a text, three weeks before the incident, in response to viewing a video of herself, the victim replies, “I was so drunk.”
While Wilson’s attorney never looked at the text messages, the doctor testified he had reviewed all of the evidence. He apparently lied, said the judge. In addition, if the jury had heard about the victim’s experience with drinking, they may not have believed she was as intoxicated as she made out to be,” said the judge.
Case Drew National Attention
While behind bars, his case captured a large online following as his friends and family publicly shared the details of his trial using the hashtag #freealbertwilson.
With the strength of a social media megaphone, high profile advocates for justice reform like Kim Kardashian came to Wilson’s side. They called him a victim of a flawed system. Eventually, the Innocence Project, a non-profit dedicated to exonerating anyone with a wrongful conviction, joined Wilson’s cause.
A change.org petition collected more than 600,000 signatures demanding the case be reviewed.
“Sadly, there are so many people in prison who don’t belong there, like Albert. But they don’t have the same type of groundswell that he does,” said Jason Flom, a board member at the Innocence Project. “I think that this case has really touched a nerve with people. And I am one of them.”
Supporters rallied outside the courthouse during the hearing.
“All we’re asking for is another trial and for Mr. Wilson to have another trial with effective counsel. I don’t think that’s too much to ask when it comes to justice,” Director of KC Freedom Project Latahra Smith said.
Smith was introduced to Wilson’s case during her investigation into former prosecutor Amy McGowen who involved in the wrongful conviction of Ricky Kidd. After 23 years in prison, Kidd was exonerated. McGowen also has several cases under review currently.
“Albert Wilson’s case involves a problematic prosecutor. It’s known, it’s widely known her misconduct — the cases of Amy McGowen,” Smith said, “because we know she has a previous history of prosecutorial misconduct in more than one case in Kansas and Missouri. To me, that alone should get Mr. Wilson a new trial.”