Cedric Willis was wrongfully convicted of murder and armed robbery, and spent a dozen years wrongfully imprisoned in Mississippi. He was freed in 2006, with the help of the New Orleans Innocence Project and DNA evidence that exonerated him, but just 13 years later, the 44-year-old was murdered. Willis was found dead of multiple gunshot wounds on a Jackson street Monday afternoon, the Clarion-Ledger reports. His mother tells WLBT he was walking home at the time, and nearby residents said they heard seven gunshots but didn't see what happened. Police have not arrested anyone, and have yet to comment on a motive. Just three weeks ago, Willis and his girlfriend attended an Innocence Project gala, one of the group's lawyers says, and he was doing well.
"There are several ways that poor black men get hurt in this country," the attorney adds. "One is gun violence, and the other is when the criminal justice system fails them. Cedric has now been a victim of both of those things." Willis, who was awarded $500,000 from the state and settled for $195,000 with the city after he was exonerated, had a 2-week-old son when he went to prison; he had become a grandfather before he died. After his release, he spent time registering Mississippi residents to vote, giving motivational speeches, and talking about his experience in schools, CNN reports. "He'd been working out, he was feeling good," says the Innocence Project lawyer, who considered him a friend. "Things seemed to be going so well for him." (Read more wrongful conviction stories.)