Charles Palmer of Illinois was charged with murder 18 years ago but is now free thanks to DNA evidence.
Palmer, 62, was convicted in 1998 for the killing of William Helmbacher who was found beaten to death with a hammer in his Decatur, Georgia apartment in 2000.
Palmer was sentenced to life in prison. But on Nov. 23, court video shows Palmer stepping out of the Macon County Law Enforcement Center in Georgia as a free man.
“Thanks for believing in me,” Charles Palmer told a crowd. “Some of y’all did a lot of paperwork and worked really hard to get me out; I really appreciate it. My journey is just now starting.”
So how exactly did Palmer spend 18 years of his life in jail for a crime the Innocence Project says he never committed?
The slaying of Helmbacher happened on Aug. 27, 1998, when he was struck 13 times in the head and neck with a claw hammer.
According to the Associated Press, a man who lived next door to Helmbacher was the initial suspect in the case because police caught him with a bag filled with Helmbacher’s possessions.
But the man made a deal with investigators, giving a statement implicating Palmer in the killing in exchange for his freedom, according to the Illinois Innocence Project.
The investigation by the Illinois Innocence Project started six years ago. Investigators requested a motion for DNA testing, which was granted in 2011.
What the DNA test revealed was that the hair found in Helmbacher’s hand and skin cells beneath his fingernails did not belong to Palmer, Innocence Project claims.
After considering the new DNA evidence, a state judge overturned Palmer’s conviction and ordered a new trial, according to local news reports. Prosecutors reportedly declined to try him again.
“The prosecution, to their credit and in light of the newly discovered DNA evidence, agreed first to a new trial and today dismissed the case entirely,” John Hanlon, executive director of the Illinois Innocence Project told the Associated Press.
An investigation into who killed Halmbacher has reopened.
–With files from the Associated Press.