Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit Vacates 1993 Murder Conviction Citing New Forensic Evidence and Withholding of Evidence Prior To Original Trial

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Lake County State's Attorneys Office


September 6, 2022


For Immediate Release
Contact: Sara Avalos
(224) 374-2376

Lake County State’s Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit Vacates 1993 Murder Conviction Citing New Forensic Evidence and Withholding of Evidence Prior To Original Trial 

(Lake County, IL) Today, the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office and defense attorneys presented agreed orders to a Lake County judge to vacate the 29-year-old murder conviction of Herman Williams, 58, in connection with the September 1993 death of his ex-wife, Penny Williams.  

Williams was convicted of murder after a jury trial in 1994. But, citing “scientifically unsupported evidence’ presented during the trial, new DNA results, and failure to tender critical scientific material to the defense, Lake County prosecutors stated they no longer had any faith in the original verdict.  

Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart stated, “Every conviction must have integrity; it must be grounded in science and in fact, and it must be the product of a fair police investigation and trial. Because of deeply erroneous scientific evidence, new DNA results, and a faulty trial, our office was compelled to agree to Mr. Williams’ release. While we acknowledge that Mr. Williams is gaining his freedom due to overwhelming new evidence that calls into question the verdict, we know that the victim’s family is suffering to understand how so many mistakes could have been made nearly 30 years ago.” 

In May 1994, Williams was sentenced to “natural life” by the trial Judge, Charles Scott, and has been incarcerated in the Illinois Department of Corrections since sentencing. 

Today, in a hearing before Lake County Chief Judge Mark Levitt, Mr. Williams was present to hear the Court agree with the attorneys that the time had come to vacate the conviction.  

According to Chief of the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit, Kevin Malia, the office agreed to vacate the conviction for a variety of reasons. Most significantly, Malia noted that two separate forensic pathologists agreed that the trial jury heard "scientifically unsupported” evidence about the time of death.   

According to documents filed in July 2022, Lake County Forensic Pathologist, Dr. Eimad Zakariya, and defense-retained expert, Dr. James Filkins, both agreed that the original trial expert, Dr. Nancy Jones, had wrongly narrowed the date of death to a few hours between the night of September 22, 1993, and September 23, 1993. The jury was told that, scientifically, these hours were the only possible window of death. In fact, according to both Zakariya and Filkins, the time of death much closer to the time when the body was recovered on Sunday, September 26. Both experts also agreed that Jones’ opinion, as expressed during the trial, had no scientific basis. 

Separate from the scientific opinions that were gathered by the State’s Attorney’s Office in 2022, prosecutors also learned that Dr. Jones had given a different opinion in 1993 that expanded the possible window of death but that her opinion had not been tendered to the defense prior to trial.  Jones’s opinion was never tendered to the defense prior to trial.  

DNA testing was also conducted in the case and demonstrated that Mr. Williams was excluded from being the source of the male DNA found under Ms. Williams fingernails at the time of her autopsy. DNA results also demonstrated that, unlike what trial prosecutors argued to the jury, Ms. Williams was not the source of a small amount of blood recovered in Herman Williams’s vehicle.  

Mr. Williams’ family and friends were present during the hearing today. Penny Williams’ family was notified by prosecutors prior to any recent court proceedings and were present via Zoom today.  

State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart added “This is a sad and difficult day in Lake County. We will continue to support the family and investigate the DNA evidence that has been recovered. We will coordinate with law enforcement and state forensic labs to determine what leads we can follow from the new evidence. Our job is to fight for the victim no matter how long it takes. But we must also take from today a renewed commitment to making sure that all evidence is turned over to the defense and that our government experts use the most thorough methods in reaching their conclusions and explaining them to jury.”  

Upon entering office, Rinehart pledged to start a fully staffed conviction integrity unit which would analyze Lake County’s troubled past with respect to wrongful convictions. In 2022, the State’s Attorney’s Office received US Department of Justice funds to be able to fund personnel and testing for the unit. The unit is analyzing and investigating several other cases.  


Lake County State's Attorney's Office
18 N. County Street
Waukegan, IL 60085  
Phone: (847) 377-3000