- Ethan Wai Chi Leung
Carl King's Fight for Justice
Colin Warner lived through a nightmare. He was 18 years old when he was convicted of second-degree murder for a crime he did not commit. After spending decades in prison, he lost a significant portion of his life. However, on February 1, 2001, after 21 years of torment, Warner was finally set free. Two days ago, while I was sitting in front of my computer screen, a feeling of amazement filled my body, as I was in a Zoom call with the person who was most responsible for Warner's exoneration -- his friend, Carl King.
Both Warner and Colin were born and raised on the island of Trinidad and went to the same elementary school, “Colin and I knew each other from the age of 5 years old,” King replied. But, King says, they developed a “stronger bond” after they moved to New York in the 1970s, respectively, and reunited in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn while sharing the same social circles. When Warner was imprisoned for murder, King was 17 years old and had very limited knowledge about the law. Yet the case was faulty from the beginning. While the detectives had arrested Norman Simmonds -- who was 14-years-old when he committed the 1980 murder -- they also arrested Warner. It was Warner who was mistakenly picked out of a lineup by a teenage witness, who detectives interrogated without the presence of a parent or a lawyer. Despite the lack of evidence against Warner, he was eventually convicted during the 1982 trial.
When asked about his thoughts about the case, King responded: “I was always hopeful, as long as I had a life, [that] I was never gonna give up on him.” After the case received a major setback when Warner lost on appeal, King decided to set about proving Warner's innocence on his own. King started by educating himself about the case by reviewing trial transcripts, tracking down the original witnesses, and researching the law. He also decided to raise funds from community residents to pay for a private attorney.
At every turn, King faced many hurdles while trying to prove Warner’s innocence. One of the biggest challenges was trying to overturn a case that was considered settled with the final convictions of Warner and Simmonds. Not only that, but King also had to investigate the case without knowing much about the law, which he resorted to teaching himself. And even with these obstacles, King never lost faith and remained dedicated to saving his friend.
A crucial turning point came when King found additional defense witnesses for Warner, who were excluded from testifying at the trial, in addition to Simmonds -- who would confess to his sole responsibility for the murder. King managed to track down witnesses and an autopsy report when private investigators couldn’t. King believes one of his strengths is that he can “think outside the box,” as he had never studied law extensively. A large part of King’s success was also attributed to his emotional connection with the case, he knew Warner personally and saw how the case against him did not ring true.
To this day, King continues to fight and advocate for the freedom of those who are wrongfully imprisoned. “... success,” he says “is when you can actually lift somebody up”