Walter Forbes had been sentenced to life in prison without parole. Back in 1982, he "stepped between two groups" who were fighting outside a local bar. Dennis Hall, one of the men in that fight, responded the following day by shooting Forbes four times. Hall later died in an arson fire while out on bail for the shooting. A few months after Forbes heard about Hall's death on the radio, a witness came forward claiming to have seen Forbes and two others carrying canisters and pouring gas around the building.
"She came clean," Forbes' lawyer Imran Syed told CNN of making contact with that witness, Annice Kennebrew. "She said that at the time of the fire she was 19, and there were two men in the community that took advantage of that."
As explained in the report, Kennebrew's testimony didn't match up with what investigators had determined. Kennebrew, for example, had alleged that gas was poured on the building. Investigators, however, had only found evidence of accelerants having been used on the inside of the apartment.
According to Syed, Kennebrew had been approached shortly after the fire by two men who threatened violence against her and her family if she didn’t testify that she saw Forbes and two others setting it.
"As far as I know, Walter had nothing to do with this crime," she says now, noting in the affidavit that her initial testimony was a "fabrication."
Forbes was the only person convicted. One of the other men passed a polygraph, resulting in dismissed charges. The other was acquitted. After Forbes' conviction, a witness said someone had confessed to setting the fire in question after being given $1,000 to do so by David Jones. Jones, the owner of the building for eight years, had insured the property two months prior to the fire. He later pleaded no contest in an insurance fraud case in the Livingston County area in 1990.
On Nov. 20 of this year, Forbes—now 63 years old—was freed after a judge tossed the conviction. In an expansive Detroit Free Press piece from Omar Abdel-Baqui, Forbes reflected on being "naive" in his youth about how the system would treat an innocent person.
"Calling it the justice system gives a false impression," Forbes said. "Just using the term 'justice' gives you the sense that it is a just system."