State Watch

Wu-Tang studio worker wrongfully convicted wins settlement from NYC

FILE — Grant Williams, left center, is embraced by his attorney Irving Cohen after his murder conviction is vacated, July 22, 2021, in New York. New York City has agreed to pay $7 million to Williams who spent 23 years behind bars for a murder he didn't commit, Comptroller Brad Lander said Monday, May 23, 2022. (Jan Somma-Hammel/Staten Island Advance via AP, Pool, File)

New York City Comptroller Brad Lander announced Monday that the city will pay $7 million to a man who spent 23 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit.

Grant Williams, 51, filed a claim against the city alleging police misconduct and civil rights violations after he was exonerated last summer for the 1996 murder of Shdell Lewis on Staten Island. Williams was convicted without any significant evidence or a confession. 

“While no amount of money can bring those years back for Mr. Williams or his family, I am pleased that we were able to move quickly to a fair and early resolution of this claim,” Lander said in a statement

The city’s charter gives the comptroller authority to settle claims made against the city, including wrongful conviction claims.

“The early resolution of this claim is in the best interests of all parties and city taxpayers,” he said.

Williams’s conviction came largely because of eyewitness testimony, and no forensic evidence or surveillance video tied him to the crime. One witness — a police officer who chased the gunman — initially gave a description that didn’t match Williams, The Associated Press reported.

Prosecutors had also connected a baseball cap emblazoned with the logo of hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan to Williams, who worked at the group’s studio on the island. But the hat was never DNA tested, according to the AP.

Lander’s office said police had also ignored a witness who claimed Williams wasn’t the shooter, and the officers did not make a record of the interview.

Irving Cohen, Williams’s lawyer, told the AP that the city “did the right thing” in agreeing to a pre-litigation settlement. Cohen said the state had also settled a separate $5 million claim from Williams.

“This will assist him in going forward and trying to get back on his feet,” Cohen told the AP.

Monday’s announcement isn’t the first time the city has settled a wrongful conviction claim. The city resolved two claims in each of the two most recent fiscal years, according to Lander’s office.

State Watch