Legal Aid Society

Exonerating Innocent Pro Bono Client Shawn Williams

After five years of investigation and advocacy, lawyers from Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP and The Legal Aid Society successfully secured vacatur of the second-degree murder conviction of pro bono client Shawn Williams, who was wrongfully convicted for a 1993 shooting, for which he had served more than 20 years in prison.

No forensic evidence or motive had been introduced during Mr. Williams’s trial. The conviction rested exclusively on testimony from one eyewitness. Since his conviction in 1994, Mr. Williams has maintained his innocence.

Following the introduction of new evidence by the Cleary team in 2013, The Legal Aid Society filed a motion in New York State Supreme Court to vacate Mr. Williams’s conviction. The DA’s office opposed this motion. While its motion had been pending, the Cleary team updated the court on new cases that supported the motion and petitioned the DA’s office to drop its opposition. Finally, on June 15, 2018, the Brooklyn DA’s office filed a letter with the court indicating it would join Cleary’s motion to vacate Mr. Williams’s conviction, leading the court to grant the motion to vacate and dismiss the indictment on July 13, 2018.

“While Mr. Williams can never have his years of wrongful incarceration returned to him, we hope that he and his family can find some measure of peace in this vindication,” said Cleary partner and Legal Aid Society Board of Directors member Victor Hou. “I could not be more proud of the extraordinary dedication and commitment to justice demonstrated by the members of our pro bono team.”