MARKSVILLE, La. — After serving four-plus decades of a 100-year sentence at the state prison in Angola, a man with family ties to Shreveport has learned newly discovered evidence appears to prove his innocence in the 1977 attempted aggravated rape of two white girls in Marksville.
Vincent Simmons, 68, who is Black, has spent the last 43 years maintaining his innocence after being found guilty by a jury of 11 white men and one Black woman during a two-day trial in Avoyelles Parish in 1977. A 346-page post-conviction relief motion filed Tuesday morning in the 12th Judicial District in Avoyelles Parish by Simmons’ attorney Justin Bonus seeks to overturn the alleged wrongful conviction.
Bonus said this could arguably be Simmons’ last chance at post-conviction relief. Monday, Bonus also mailed out documents requesting clemency for Simmons as recommended by the state, while vying for exoneration.
Simmons has a sister, nieces, nephews and cousins living in Shreveport.
“From the start I was and am innocent of these charges. I knew one day God would send His messengers and soldiers to aid me when he was ready. God is the Light so we are the light,” Simmons said.
The motion filed by Simmons' attorney highlights testimonies, Facebook Messenger messages and other newly discovered evidence indicating the crime never occurred. According to the testimonies and affidavits supplied by relatives of the alleged victims, the story against Simmons was a fabrication in an attempt to cover the sexual behavior of one of the girls' family members.
In the motion are an array of affidavits including testimony the man's daughter, who alleges the story against Simmons was a cover-up for her father’s sexual behavior and and that he also molested her as a young child and a teen. Another family members attests that the man also attempted to molest or rape her years ago and allegedly confessed to the incident in which Simmons is accused.
In May 1977, twin 14-year-old sisters were living with their grandparents in Avoyelles Parish, a small community in the center of the state, when they reported they were brutally raped and kidnapped along with their 18-year-old male cousin.
Thirteen days after the alleged crime, the teens would tell authorities an unknown Black man committed the crime. In their statements to police, the twins were unable to identify their attacker citing “all blacks look alike,” according to police records.
The following day, Simmons was taken into police custody while walking on Waddil Street in Marksville, after going to see one of his sister’s who had just given birth to a baby girl. He went to trial roughly 51 days after being arrested.
"There was no sexual assault or rape, no kidnapping. In fact, there is no evidence today, or presented at trial 43 years ago, that links Vincent Simmons with the alleged crime or alleged victims. These three young people at the time, to avoid embarrassment over their antics, and with the complicity of the police, prosecutors and judge, placed an innocent man in prison for 43 years, where he remains today,” said Bonus.
One of the victims admitted that Simmons did not rape the two young girls, and never placed anyone in the trunk of the car, as was alleged, according to records filed Tuesday.
According to one of the affidavits, "The whole case was a lie." The document alleges the girl's cousin took them down a road in Marksville, placed one in the truck and had consensual sex with the other in the back seat of the car. The document alleges that the other twin was placed in the trunk after refusing advances for sex.
In spite of the teens claims of rape, medical evidence from the coroner was kept hidden from the defense at the time of the trial, Simmons' attorney alleges, but a forensic pathology expert recently confirmed that neither of the girls was raped.
There was little if any investigation conducted by the police and the investigators in this case failed to conduct any search in the car claimed to have been used in the alleged crime, according to the court documents.
The monochrome 1977 lineup photo included seven black men, including Simmons, and one white man standing on the far end. Only Simmons, who was in the middle, is in handcuffs in the lineup — a measure considered likely to ensure that the victim or witness will identify that person.
Lisa Lindquist Dorr, an expert who reviewed this case, said, "Vincent Simmons was convicted by a legal process that closely paralleled the prosecutions of scores of black men accused of crimes by white women. Police conducted no investigation to speak of. Simmons has insisted there were efforts by police to coerce him to confess."
With the trial held so soon after Simmons' arrest, the defense counsel had "very little time to prepare his case. Simmons was convicted by a jury composed of 11 whites and 1 African American, and received an extremely severe sentence," Door said.
“This is a story you might hear when speaking of Jim Crow and the rape myth involving Black men and white women that resulted in so many tragic lynchings and wrongful convictions," said Bonus.