Albert Wilson’s wrongful conviction case is in the judge’s hands

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A Douglas County judge must decide whether to believe Albert Wilson, who says he was wrongly convicted and should be compensated, or the woman who says Wilson raped her when she was 17. 

Wilson, now 28, was 23 years old when he was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison after a Douglas County jury found him guilty of rape in January 2019. The case drew attention across the country because many people believed that Wilson, a young Black man, was wrongly convicted by a jury of mostly white women, symptomatic of larger issues of systemic racism. 

Douglas County District Judge Sally Pokorny ruled in March 2021 that jurors could have come to a different decision in Wilson’s case if they had known about certain evidence that Wilson’s attorney did not use, and if the state’s expert forensic psychologist had not bolstered the accuser’s credibility. Pokorny ruled that a retrial was necessary. 

However, after a few months of attempting to negotiate a plea ahead of a second trial, Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez in December 2021 dismissed Wilson’s criminal case with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled. 

“As time passed and negotiations continued, it became increasingly clear that absent a creative, non-standard resolution, this matter was destined to be retried,” the DA’s office wrote in a Dec. 22, 2021 news release. “In keeping with this Office’s trauma-informed approach to criminal prosecution, we sought the survivor’s input and gauged her expectations and objectives. She wanted to address Mr. Wilson directly and to convey to him the impact this entire experience has had on her.”

Wilson in April 2022 filed a wrongful conviction civil case against the state, seeking compensation and a certificate of innocence. Through a bench trial before Judge Carl Folsom III Monday and Tuesday, more specific information about the evidence that sparked the remand emerged, as well as some new evidence. 

Wilson was represented by Salina-based attorney Laurel Driskell along with Alex Driskell. First Assistant Attorney General Shon Qualseth represented the state along with Lisa Mendoza. 

Wilson and his counsel had the burden to prove that he more than likely did not commit the crime for which he was convicted, which was rape of a victim who was overcome by force or fear. The bench trial was in essence a chance for him to prove his innocence. 

Wilson and the accuser, referred to as Jane Doe throughout the trial, both gave testimony that was materially the same as what they had said during Wilson’s criminal trial. Doe answered some further questions about issues that came up after that trial, and Wilson was questioned about some text messages he had sent that were never introduced in his criminal case. 

Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times Laurel Driskell, left, addresses the judge during the second day of the bench trial for Albert Wilson, Jan. 30, 2024. Also standing is Shon Qualseth, and seated at right is Lisa Mendoza.

What happened

Doe was a senior in high school when she went to Lawrence to visit her cousin and check out KU’s campus the weekend of Sept. 10 and 11, 2016. 

Nearly seven years later, in July 2023, Doe gave a deposition in Wilson’s civil case. That video was played in court Monday during Wilson’s bench trial. 

Doe and Wilson met briefly at the Hawk, a well-known bar near campus.

Wilson went to the Hawk with a friend, and Doe went with her cousin after they had “pregamed” — meaning they’d had some drinks elsewhere first. The group met standing in line for the Boom Boom Room, a dance club-like room inside the bar. 

Doe got separated from her cousin amid the chaos. She was with Wilson, and he started kissing her, which she said was OK with her. Then he started putting his hands up her skirt. She was touching him, too, Wilson testified, and she seemed really interested in him. 

Doe said Wilson asked her if she wanted to go home with him, and she said she needed to find her cousin because she was going to stay there at the dorms with her. She said she assumed she’d be going outside to try to call her cousin, but then they kept walking. 

Wilson said he told Doe he was leaving and she followed him. 

They left the bar at 12:10 a.m. Sept. 11, 2016, and returned at 12:25 a.m., video surveillance showed. They walked to the home where Wilson was living at 14th and Kentucky streets, approximately a four-minute walk from the bar. 

Wilson said they went straight upstairs to his room and continued kissing for a while, and he thought they were going to have sex, but then he got a text and a call from his friend looking for him, and they went back to the bar. 

Doe said as they approached his room, she could tell he was wanting to have sex and she wasn’t comfortable with that. She said she started saying she was really drunk and that she didn’t want to do that, saying “no” multiple times. 

She paused for a moment. “I’m sorry, I don’t like being in that room in my head,” Doe said through tears. 

She said she remembered Wilson opening drawers and looking for a condom, and she got really scared at that point, because if someone starts looking for something like that when you’ve already said “no,” it makes it clear that whatever you said doesn’t matter. 

She said she felt like she froze.

Asked if Wilson had sexual intercourse with her, Doe said “I wasn’t participating — that’s not what I would consider to be sex. But if what you’re asking me is that he penetrated me nonconsensually, then yes.” 

As soon as it was over, she said, she got up and started walking out to head back to the bar. She initially headed the wrong direction because she wasn’t familiar with the area, she said, but Wilson told her she was going the wrong way. She said he told her she looked like she was about to cry, and that stuck with her because she felt like he was taunting her. 

Wilson denied ever having sex with Doe. He said her demeanor did change on the way back to the bar from the house — she had been “all lovey dovey,” but on the way back, she was just quiet, he said.

Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times Laurel Driskell, counsel for Albert Wilson, addresses the judge during Wilson’s bench trial on Jan. 29, 2024.

Wilson said he was offered plea deals and would not have had to serve any time in prison if he had taken the plea but instead he would be on the sex offender registry for life. He said he wouldn’t take a plea because he wasn’t guilty. 

“Even though they offered me no jail time, my life would still be punished and in shambles and crumbles if I’d had to register,” Wilson said. “… Why would I plead to something that I didn’t do?”

Wilson’s friend who was there that night testified that when the two came back to the bar, they both seemed upset. He said he asked Wilson what had happened, and Wilson didn’t want to talk about it. The friend said he never talked with Wilson about what happened. 

Doe: ‘It made me feel like I wasn’t a person’

Doe was emotional throughout her deposition, pausing multiple times to compose herself. She said she had never seen the surveillance videos from the bar, and she didn’t want to, but she was able to identify herself in them.

When Qualseth asked how the incident had affected her, Doe said “It made me feel abused. It made me feel like I wasn’t a person.” 

She said something that was a pivotal moment in her life and that would leave her never the same again “felt like routine action;” felt “rehearsed.” 

Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times First Assistant Attorney General Shon Qualseth emphasizes during his closing arguments that Wilson did not testify that “I did not do anything,” but that “I did not do anything wrong.”

She said it felt as though Wilson had a level of comfort with not abiding by her pleas of “no.” 

“I don’t know anyone that if someone told them, ‘No, no, no, I’m not OK with this,’ was going to just continue doing what they were doing and not address that,” she said. 

She also felt that she didn’t have control over what happened next, because as a minor, the sexual assault nurse examiner who gave her an examination at the hospital the following day was mandated to report some parts to police anyway. 

“A lot of me just wanted to completely forget that it happened because it was too painful to think about that that was gonna affect my life forever,” she said. 

An issue that came up in post-trial proceedings was that Doe was pictured in photographs with her friends at a high school dance a couple of weeks later, despite her testimony that she had begun to struggle with any situations where she was around a lot of people. She said during her deposition that she went to the dance because she had already planned to go, and she didn’t want to explain to her friends why she suddenly changed her mind. So she went, and she had panic attacks while she was there, she said. 

She said she didn’t tell many people what had happened — only a couple of close friends. She said the way we talk about people who are raped is very othering, and she didn’t want to feel like she was made other like that for the rest of her life. 

“I didn’t want people to make assumptions about me based on something that I didn’t have a say in, and I didn’t want people to define me by the worst thing that’s ever happened to me,” she said. 

Doe said during the deposition that she didn’t tell her father what had happened until after the trial, when people who were involved in a movement to draw attention to Wilson’s case posted her photo online with information about her family. At that point, she said, she felt like she had to tell him before he found out from anyone else that saw her picture online. She said she’d tried to hide what happened from anyone in her life. 

Alleged inconsistent statements and new texts

Some key issues that caused Judge Pokorny to vacate Wilson’s conviction were text messages that could have changed the jury’s verdict if Wilson’s trial counsel had been able to cross-examine Doe about them. 

Qualseth also had text messages that Wilson had sent that were never brought up during the criminal trial, some of which were admitted as evidence in the civil case.

In a group text message from Oct. 26, 2016 that Qualseth read, one of Wilson’s friends had asked how many Xanax it would take for his girl to pass out. Wilson responded that she was going to have to drink on them, too, or it wouldn’t work. He told the friend the dosage to give her as well as how much alcohol, and if she wasn’t out in an hour, to give her another dose of the Xanax. 

Judge Folsom said he would not admit that text message as evidence because Wilson was convicted of rape by force or fear (KSA 21-5503 (a) (1) (A)), not rape of a victim who was incapable of consenting because they were intoxicated. 

Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times Judge Carl Folsom III listens to counsel speak during Albert Wilson’s bench trial, Jan. 29, 2024.

Another text from Wilson to a friend that Qualseth read, sent Sept. 21, 2016, said that b****es get mad because they can’t come to his house “unless they are f***ing or helping.” Another text stated that “if you come over to my house, you go straight upstairs to my room, nowhere else.” 

When Qualseth asked him about those messages, Wilson testified that numerous times throughout the case, they have had documents that have been redacted and manipulated. Qualseth asked if Wilson believed the text messages had been doctored in any way, and Wilson said he did not know. 

Qualseth said he believed those messages were relevant to the case even though they didn’t directly mention Doe because of her statement that the incident seemed “rehearsed.” Folsom admitted those two messages as evidence.

During the criminal trial, Doe had testified when asked whether she’d had vodka before that weekend that “I’d only really had beer, like, once or twice sort of thing.” She said she was having trouble walking around, and it was hard to get her words out. 

Text messages on her phone revealed that the night before, she’d also messaged a friend that she was “super drunk,” among other messages. During her deposition, she said it was possible that she’d been drunk more than 10 times before that night. She said she’d answered to the best of her ability when she was asked about it three years after that night during the criminal trial. 

Attorneys for the state had attempted to keep that information out of the bench trial, writing in a motion that “Prior alcohol use does not imply consent to any of the acts that Jane Doe reported.” However, Folsom ruled that it was relevant information toward Doe’s credibility. 

Another issue was Doe’s mental health. She described experiencing severe panic attacks after that night, and a forensic psychologist who testified for the state said that Doe had “a very serious case” of post-traumatic stress disorder. She lost a lot of weight and had anxiety so bad that she would become physically ill. 

Doe had experienced mild anxiety before that night, and she was prescribed Prozac. She told the psychologist about that; however, the prosecutor had redacted that information out of the psychologist’s report that was provided to Wilson’s defense counsel, so Doe could not be questioned about her mental health prior to that night. 

The criminal trial transcript shows that Doe had described her panic attacks and trouble sleeping; the prosecutor asked her whether she had any of those issues before that night, and she said she never had a panic attack before that. She said the forensic psychologist did not give her any medicine or suggestions for future treatment. She went to her primary care physician for that, and she went to counseling sporadically, she testified. 

Driskell had started to question Wilson about conditions in prison and what he missed out on while he was behind bars, as she said that was part of Albert Wilson’s story, but Qualseth objected and Folsom ruled that it was not relevant.

“I think everyone knows that prison is not a good place to be,” Folsom said.

Next steps

The prosecutor during Wilson’s January 2019 jury trial had to prove to the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt that Wilson had committed the crime for which he was accused.

Wilson’s attorneys in his civil case have the burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he did not do it — in other words, the judge would have to be 50.1% or more convinced that Wilson did not do the crime to rule in his favor.

Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times Albert Wilson listens during his bench trial, Jan. 30, 2024.

The bench trial was set to last all week, but it wrapped up around lunchtime Tuesday. 

Wilson’s attorneys and the state will file proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law by March 1. Folsom will review those and said he’ll most likely issue a written decision at a later date. 

Folsom must determine whether Wilson’s counsel met the burden to prove he should be compensated under the state’s wrongful conviction statute. He is seeking $65,000 per year of incarceration, attorney fees, and a certificate of innocence. Wilson was incarcerated for about two years, three and a half months, according to the civil case. 

The judge’s decision can be appealed directly to the Kansas Supreme Court, according to the statute. 

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

More coverage: Albert Wilson case


Resources for survivors

If you have experienced sexual violence or trauma, please seek the help that’s right for you. There are many options available, and you don’t have to file a police report if you don’t want to.

Get 24/7 help in Lawrence: The Sexual Trauma & Abuse Care Center
  • Call 785-843-8985 to reach an advocate, 24/7. (Consider saving that number in your phone in case you or someone you know ever needs it.)
  • After an assault: What are my options? Check this page for detailed information about
    • talking to an advocate,
    • going to the hospital,
    • making a police report,
    • and/or talking to a counselor or therapist.
  • On campus? Check this page for specific resources for the University of Kansas, Haskell Indian Nations University, Baker University, Ottawa University and more.
Resources on KU’s campus:
  • Contact the CARE (Campus Assistance, Resource, and Education) Coordinator: Students can make an appointment by email,, or by calling 785-864-9255. It’s free, confidential and voluntary to talk with the CARE Coordinator. All genders welcome. Read more here.
  • Find more KU campus resources at this link. Specific information about sexual assault exams can be found here.
  • Direct message KU CARE Sisters on Instagram. You don’t need to be affiliated with Greek Life to reach out and/or receive assistance. (Note: CARE Sisters provide peer support and education, but this is not a 24/7 service like others listed here.)
Domestic violence situations: The Willow Domestic Violence Center
  • Reach the Willow for help 24/7 at 785-843-3333.
  • Find more resources on the Willow’s website at this link.
More resources
  • StrongHearts Native Helpline: Call 1-844-7NATIVE (762-8483) for 24/7 safe, confidential and anonymous domestic and sexual violence support for Native Americans and Alaska Natives that is culturally appropriate.
  • National hotline: Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), text “START” to 88788, and/or visit to chat and learn more, 24/7.

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