In 1982, Walter Forbes was a full-time student at Michigan’s Jackson Community College with dreams of owning a real estate development firm after graduating.
Sadly, those dreams would never come to fruition because Walter would end up behind bars for 37 years over a crime he did not commit.
The event that changed Walter’s life forever happened that same year when he broke up a fight at a bar one night.
According to court documents, one of the men involved in the fight, Dennis Hall, shot Walter the next day.
On July 12, 1982, Hall died in an apartment fire that appeared to be deliberately set.
Because of Walter’s altercation with Hall, police considered him a suspect in the arson and later arrested Walter at his home.
In May 1983, Walter was convicted of murder and arson and sentenced to life in prison.
Walter would spend the next 37 years of his life in prison.
On November 20, 2020, at age 63, Walter finally became a free man again after evidence surfaced that the fire may have been part of an insurance fraud scheme orchestrated by the apartment building owner, which led to a retrial.
Key evidence used to convict Walter was Annice Kennebrew’s testimony saying she saw Walter and two other men burn down the two-story house.
Due to discrepancies in Kennebrew’s testimony, one of the three men had the charges against him dismissed after he passed a polygraph test. The other man was also acquitted due to discrepancies.
Walter was the only one convicted, most likely because of his connection to the man who was killed in the fire.
According to court documents, in 2017, Kennebrew, (whose last name was Gibson in 1982) admitted that she lied during her testimony and that she never saw Walter at the scene of the fire.
After a judge granted an evidentiary hearing in February 2020, Kennebrew testified “that she had falsely implicated Mr. Forbes because she had been intimidated into doing so by two local men who knew her from around the neighborhood and who had threatened to harm her and her family,” court documents said.
The judge said that a witness who knowingly lied under oath could be charged with perjury, however the statute of limitations for the crime is generally six years.
The apartment building’s owner, David Jones, was convicted in a separate arson in Livingston County, Michigan, in 1990.
According to court documents, a man died in that fire as well. Two people who admitted to conspiring with Jones to set fire to the building in 1990 told police they were aware of Jones’ role in the 1982 fire.
Jones died a few years before the Michigan Innocence Clinic took on Forbes’ case in 2010.
“I don’t hold contempt for the people who lied to convict me,” Forbes said. “The reason is selfish: I wasn’t going to allow them to destroy me.
“If I didn’t forgive, it wouldn’t be detrimental to them, it would be detrimental to me.”
A GoFundMe has been created in efforts to help him get back on his feet, which has so far raised almost $10,000.