In 2015, Willie Shaw was a nurse working at a long-term care facility in Mint Hill, North Carolina. With little to no evidence, Shaw was accused of sexually assaulting an elderly white woman who died. He was told to take a plea deal or face a murder charge. Shaw ultimately served six years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit and was finally exonerated on January 19, 2021 because of the work of Duke Law’s Wrongful Conviction Clinic.
In his first longform interview since being released, the 48-year-old father spoke on SiriusXM Urban View’s The Clay Cane Show about his horrible ordeal in the North Carolina criminal justice system.
“I honestly felt like I was in a living nightmare,” Shaw said. “When I was in the courtroom, the first thing I said was, ‘This stuff happens on TV. This is something somebody would put on TV.’ I couldn't believe even after I got in prison, I still couldn't believe that it was actually happening… because there's no way you just convicted me of a crime with no evidence.”
According to published reports, “the state alleged Shaw, a certified nursing assistant, assaulted the resident at approximately 2:45 p.m., when Shaw provided her intimate care during her shower, but medical experts concluded that the injury happened 30-120 minutes before 10 p.m. when the patient was found bleeding in her bed.”
In May of 2015, the unidentified elderly woman, who reportedly suffered from dementia, was vomiting and had gastrointestinal bleeding. She was found by Shaw at 10:20 p.m. The security camera shows him going into her room and then immediately coming out to report the resident’s bleed, according to Duke Law’s Wrongful Conviction Clinic.
Within days, Shaw was arrested and charged with first degree sex offense. This is despite Shaw’s job vouching for him and no witnesses of the abuse. Police also claimed that Shaw confessed on audio but when the tapes were heard in court, according to Shaw, there was no confession.
Shaw told Cane that his defense attorney, Dean Loven, who he calls a “public pretender,” stated to him, “This is his exact words, he said, ‘A white woman died and somebody has to pay for it.’ I said, ‘Well, you need to find a person that did it.’ He said, ‘Why would we, we have you?”
Shaw was told that if he did not accept a plea deal he would face a murder charge, which would have carried a sentence of life without parole. He took the deal and pleaded guilty to Felony Patient Abuse and Neglect but always maintained his innocence.
Willie Shaw was sentenced to a minimum of eight years and eight months and a maximum of 11 years five months. Thankfully, Duke Law’s Wrongful Conviction Clinic proved through interviews and medical experts that Shaw was innocent. This is the tenth exoneration for the Wrongful Conviction Clinic, who also secured the release of Ronnie Long -- a Black man who was behind bars for 44 yeas after being convicted of raping a white woman.
Mr. Jamie T. Lau, Shaw’s lead attorney, exclusively told BET.com, “We are thrilled to have been able to reunite Mr. Shaw with his family. While we know that he will face struggles moving forward having lost a number of years to a wrongful conviction, we know that the path forward will be easier surrounded by loved ones.”
Shaw also opened up to Cane about the trauma he experienced behind bars and how hard it was to adjust. “You're in there with a bunch of gangbangers. You're in there with a bunch of murderers, child molesters. Then you also have the guards who treat you like they're the judge -- and they're there to judge you instead of allowing you to do your time or try to help you better yourself.”
He continued, “I've only been out a few weeks and I'm not even going to lie to you, it's scary. I've done almost six years in prison for a crime I didn't commit. I've lost all that time with my children. My grandson don't even know me.”
North Carolina has given no compensation to Shaw even though his case has been vacated. He has struggled to find work and is currently living with his mother in Illinois.
The family of the elderly woman who died still insists Shaw is guilty. One family member wrote a letter to the court, calling Shaw a monster.
“I did nothing to this woman at all,” Shaw told Cane.
“Anything I've ever done was to help her but you feel that because the police lied to you and told you that I admitted guilt for something that I’ve never done -- you take that word over it before you take the word of the evidence that's presented in the courtroom.”
See the Willie Shaw’s interview below: