Walter Forbes was sentenced to life without parole in connection with an arson death.
Walter Forbes, a man from Jackson, Michigan, has been released from prison after serving 38 years in connection with an arson death he had no part of.
In a report from the New York Times, Forbes’ release came about in 2017 after a witness admitted she lied on the stand after being threatened. Following that, a judge vacated Forbes’ sentence in November; last week a prosecutor decided not to pursue a new trial against him.
The incident that led to Forbes’ incarceration took place back in 1982, when he stepped in to stop a fight at a bar involving a man named Dennis Hall. The next day, Hall shot Forbes; a month later, Hall died in a fire that the authorities believed was arson, and Forbes was suspected of killing him. Per the Times:
Investigators initially received a tip that the building’s owner had paid someone to start the fire as part of an insurance-fraud scheme. But then a witness came forward. Annice Kennebrew, a 19-year-old mother of two, told the police that Mr. Forbes was one of three men she saw set fire to Mr. Hall’s apartment building in Jackson.
Although charges were dropped against the two other men, Forbes was sentenced to life without parole. In 2011, Forbes’ case was taken up by Imran J. Syed, a then-recent graduate from the University of Michigan Law School, where Syed was told by Kennebrew that her testimony against Forbes and the two other men was “a complete fabrication.” Two men had threatened to kill her, her children and other family members if she didn’t tell police the story the men had given her.
“She didn’t do this for monetary gain, or some nefarious purpose,” Syed said. “She did it because she was scared. We know that people lie under oath. We know that people falsely implicate people. We want those things coming out and not staying hidden forever. We wish she would have done it earlier, but she came forward and did the right thing.”
The 63-year-old Forbes is expected to receive nearly $2 million for his wrongful incarceration. The state offers $50,000 for each year of their imprisonment but, as the Times noted, it could take several months before he receives it.
A GoFundMe to help Forbes cover the costs for housing and food was started by the Michigan Innocence Clinic. The clinic noted that a Covid outbreak occurred at the facility Forbes was at, but fortunately he didn’t contract the virus.