Innocent Man Freed After Serving 14 Years Behind Bars
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Chris Wickham was finally exonerated and had his name removed from the sex offender registry after he was wrongly convicted of a rape he did not commit 22 years ago.
Frustrated at times, Wickham said he never grew bitter and always believed the truth would come to light. Now, he’s eager to reclaim parts of his life that he was denied.
“It’s hard to express really how you feel because it’s like a big weight is off of you,” he said.
Wickham always believed the truth would be heard – he just didn’t think it would take 22 years.
“I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in prison,” he said. “Especially for something I didn’t do.”
Wickham was convicted of two counts of rape in 1997 and sentenced to 20 years in prison. The Rocky Mountain Innocence Center started looking into his case five years ago.
“It’s a true injustice that took far too long to correct,” said Jennifer Springer, managing attorney of the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center.
As it turns out, Wickham had an alibi. He was in the hospital when the crime took place.
Wickham was at his birthday party at his home in 1995 and took a drive to get some snacks with a friend. They got into a crash and he ended up in the hospital until 6:30 the next morning.
The sexual assault happened at 2 a.m., but his defense attorney did not use his alibi for some reason.
“(I) wish I knew – to this day I wonder why that all happened that way,” Wickham said.
“What a waste of resources, a waste of Mr. Wickham’s life,” Springer said. “Fifteen years incarcerated for something he didn’t do.”
What did Wickham say he missed the most while he was in prison?
“My kids growing up, which is probably the hardest thing I had to go through,” he said.
His children were three and five years old when Wickham was taken from their lives. Now they’re in their 20s and he hasn’t had any contact with him.
But Wickham said he isn’t bitter and his Christian faith helped him to survive.
“Because of my faith, my beliefs, and a choice,” he said. “I could either become bitter and angry or choose to grow and learn and become better. It’s a choice. Obviously I am terribly happy that it’s finally over, but going through it, it’s frustrating. You hope that someone will listen, which a friend of mine who’s an attorney, did.”
His recommendation for the justice system: confirm the truth of accusers.
“I would hope that people would take the time to verify things and to look into things deeper,” Wickham said. “Make sure they are before you hand down a sentence like 20 years-to-life. That’s pretty hefty.”
Wickham will receive modest compensation from the state for his years in prison. He was paroled seven years ago and feels he can now get on with his life.
“Hopefully, I can try to get on with my life and maybe I’ll hoping I can restore my relationship with my kids.”