Walter Forbes was in his 20s when he was sent to prison for murder. At age 63, he was told his conviction had been thrown out. It was like watching a "vision unfold," the Michigan man tells CNN. Still, "it's pretty sad that it took 38 years," says Forbes' lawyer, Imran Syed, of the Michigan Innocence Clinic. Forbes had been a college student when he tried to break up a fight outside a bar in 1982, per CNN. The next day, a man named Dennis Hall shot Forbes four times in retaliation. Released on bail, Hall would soon after die in a suspected arson fire at his apartment in Jackson. At the time, Forbes remembers thinking he might be framed. And that appears to be exactly what happened. A witness came forward three months after the fire to say she'd seen Forbes and two other men pouring gasoline around the building. The only one convicted, Forbes received a life sentence for arson and murder.
Years later, Forbes learned the building's owner, David Jones, had pleaded no contest in an arson insurance fraud scheme, and he began to suspect "a pattern." Unbeknownst to Forbes, authorities had already been told of an alleged confession, in which a person admitted to setting the 1982 fire for Jones, who'd recently taken out an insurance policy on the building. The Michigan Innocence Clinic helped reveal that information as it began investigating in 2010. It also spoke to the first witness, whose claim that gas was poured outside the building from red canisters didn't match evidence at the scene—the only gas canister there was blue, and accelerants were poured inside the building. The woman recanted, saying two men had threatened to kill her and her family if she didn't implicate Forbes. Both men are now dead, as is Jones. Released Nov. 20, Forbes hopes to find "the most effective way to help others," per the Detroit Free Press. (Read more exoneration stories.)