A Douglas County judge ruled Tuesday that Albert Wilson, 25, will be granted a new trial.
Wilson was convicted in a Lawrence rape case in January 2019, and he was sentenced to just more than 12 years in prison. However, many supporters of Wilson — both from his hometown of Wichita, and people who have heard of the case via social media nationwide — believe he was wrongly convicted.
Wilson burst into tears when the judge announced her ruling.
The Kansas Court of Appeals remanded the case to Douglas County District Court for a “Van Cleave hearing,” which in theory should get the case back before the trial judge more quickly than going through the entire appeals process, though that remand came more than 13 months ago.
In two days of hearings in November 2020, Wilson’s appellate defense attorneys, Joshua Dubin and Michael Whalen, presented evidence that Wilson’s attorney during his jury trial said he missed. If it had come out in the trial, Dubin and Whalen said, the evidence could have raised questions about the truthfulness of some of the statements the accuser made in a psychiatric evaluation, and in her courtroom testimony.
Whalen and the prosecutor who handled the appeal in the case both filed their findings of fact and conclusions of law in the case in December 2020, and Judge Sally Pokorny’s decision had been pending since.
More than 700 people tuned in to watch the YouTube livestream of the decision. The case has drawn much attention nationwide, including from some celebrities, because many people believe Wilson’s conviction was symptomatic of implicit racial bias. Wilson, a young Black man, was convicted by a jury comprising mostly white females, as was the girl who accused Wilson.
Pokorny described the preceding court decisions that guided her ruling and the criteria by which judges must rule on ineffectiveness of counsel. For instance, she said that under the law, she was not allowed to consider an email that one juror had sent to her expressing remorse for the verdict.
She then paused and said she was going to change the order in which she read the ruling she had written because “everyone’s stomach is churning” awaiting the decision.
Pokorny noted Wilson’s argument that his defense attorney at trial, Forrest Lowry, failed to adequately use evidence from the accuser’s phone, which contradicted some statements the accuser made to the state’s forensic psychologist, John Spiridigliozzi, and to the jury about her inexperience with alcohol. Pokorny said some of that evidence could have made jurors question Spiridigliozzi’s testimony that everything the accuser had told them had been confirmed.
In addition, the evidence Dubin and Whalen presented showed that the onset of all of the accuser’s mental health symptoms was not necessarily after she met Wilson, as the jury had been told, Pokorny said. The girl was taking an antidepressant prior to that night, text messages from her phone revealed, but Spiridigliozzi did not mention that history at the trial. Pokorny said the jury might also have changed its conclusions about the psychologist’s testimony if Lowry had cross-examined him about that.
Pokorny said Spiridigliozzi was acting as the state’s “lie detector,” he had testified far beyond his expertise, and that his testimony had bolstered the accuser’s credibility for the jury, but Lowry had lodged no objections.
“This was and is a he-said, she-said case,” Pokorny said.
Pokorny said there were strategic reasons why Lowry did what he did in the case, and said she didn’t find many of the other arguments Whalen and Dubin raised to be proof of Lowry’s ineffectiveness. Some of the evidence might not even have been admissible at the trial.
But her confidence in the jury’s verdict was undermined, she said, and it was her belief that if the jury knew about the evidence from the accuser’s phone, the outcome would have been different.
Wilson will be brought back for a bond hearing in Douglas County, probably within a week, Pokorny said.
Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez said that Wilson had no prior criminal history, and so when he was transported to Douglas County the state would ask that a bond modification be done sooner rather than later, for Wilson’s sake.
Pokorny said she had no concerns that Wilson would flee or not report as directed, but she did want him released from Douglas County with bond conditions rather than released from Hutchinson Correctional Facility.
Update, 4:17 p.m. Tuesday: Wilson’s next court date is set for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 23.