Exonerated former Gurnee man receives certificate of innocence

Three decades after he was wrongly convicted and sent to prison for the 1993 murder of his ex-wife, former Gurnee resident Herman Williams is officially an innocent man.

A Lake County judge Tuesday issued a certificate of innocence for Williams, who spent 29 years in prison before new DNA testing led to his release in September 2022, his legal team announced.

“Herman Williams lost nearly three decades of his life behind bars because of fabricated evidence and coerced statements and he will never get that time back,” the attorneys said in a statement Tuesday.

“One of his primary desires during all those years was to officially clear his name, which is what the Certificate of Innocence today accomplishes,” the statement continues. “All wrongful convictions are tragic and the harm to the victims is immeasurable. As Herman explains, serving time is hard for anyone, but serving time as an innocent man is utter torture.”

Williams, a U.S. Navy veteran who served in the Gulf War, was convicted in 1994 of killing ex-wife Penny Williams. Her battered body was found in a pond near Midlane Country Club in Wadsworth on Sept. 26, 1993.

Prosecutors argued at trial that Williams killed his former wife so he could take their children to California, where he was being transferred from his post at Naval Station Great Lakes. They claimed blood matching Penny Williams' type was found in his pickup truck and her purse was found in a trash bin near the home of his second wife.

In 2021, a new round of DNA testing determined that biological material found under Penny Williams' fingernails did not belong to her or her former husband. It also showed that blood found in Herman Williams’ truck did not belong to his ex-wife.

Presented with that evidence, Lake County State's Attorney Eric Rinehart supported a petition to vacate the conviction, which a judge ordered in September 2022.

Williams last year filed a federal lawsuit against nine former law enforcement officers, a pair of former prosecutors and a deceased pathologist, along with several Lake County communities, alleging they conspired to frame him for the murder.

“Herman’s wrongful conviction was the result of a fabricated confession, manufactured and concealed evidence, and false testimony by law enforcement, public servants who had abandoned their professional and ethical obligations to falsely acquire this conviction to advance their careers,” his legal team stated Tuesday.

The suit, which seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, is not scheduled to be in court until Dec. 10 for a pretrial status hearing.

Herman Williams poses for a picture flanked by Innocence Project attorneys Vanessa Potkin, left, and Lauren Kaeseberg as he was released from prison in September 2022 after serving 29 years on a wrongful murder conviction. Williams was granted a certificate of innocence Tuesday. Courtesy of Tori Howard for the Innocence Project
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.