Righting the Wrong of a Wrongful Conviction

Willie T. "Timmy" Donald walked out of Indiana's Miami Correctional Facility on February 4, 2016, after serving 24 years of his life for a crime he didn't commit. Since then, the State of Indiana hasn’t provided a dime of financial compensation for wrongfully imprisoning him. We can’t give him back those 24 years, but we hope to make it a little easier for him to retire comfortably.

Timmy Donald's Story

On February 27, 1992, an assailant robbed five people at gunpoint, killing one, in Gary, Indiana, while Timmy Donald helped his sister and her husband pick out a car at a dealership on the other side of town. A week later, two witnesses hesitantly picked Mr. Donald's photo out of a book of mugshots at the police station, saying he looked like a little like their attacker. The only reason his mugshot was in the police station's book was because he was arrested years earlier for sitting in a relative’s car that was wrongly reported stolen. That charge was dropped, and Mr. Donald was never arrested again – but his photo stayed in the police’s book. Security footage would have shown Timmy at the car dealership with his sister at the time the robberies took place. However, his public defender, who was busy running for mayor at the time, failed to request the tapes before they were discarded. A jury convicted Mr. Donald based only on the witness identifications.  

Mr. Donald made the best of his time in prison, while steadfastly pursuing all available legal pathways to prove his innocence. He obtained two degrees behind bars, an associate's degree in general studies and a bachelor's in business. Tom Vanes, his defense attorney since his first appeal, worked pro bono on his behalf for more than 10 years to get the conviction overturned. Students from Northwestern University's Medill Innocence Project also re-investigated the case, uncovering evidence that the witness IDs were flawed. 

Finally, in 2013, the State's star witness formally recanted her identification, and in February 2016 – when Mr. Donald was 47 years old – an Indiana judge overturned all his convictions and he was set free.


After his release, Mr. Donald became actively involved with other exonerees nationally, sharing his story to support others who have been wrongfully convicted. He serves as a volunteer on the board of the Willie T Donald Exoneration Advisory Coalition , which was established by Purdue University Northwest Criminal Justice professor Dr. Nicky Ali Jackson. The coalition provides assistance to Indiana exonerees, raises public awareness on wrongful convictions, and works on policy reform.

How Can You Help?

Mr. Donald has been working as a maintenance worker for the past two years, and prior to that, worked odd jobs to earn money. Because he lost 24 years of his working life, he has no vested retirement funds or Social Security. His current position is low-paying and doesn’t allow him to save for the future. Without our help, Mr. Donald, a victim of the most egregious miscarriage of justice, will have to work for the rest of his life. Please join us in ensuring that Mr. Donald has an opportunity to live without the continued financial burden thrust upon him when he was wrongly arrested, convicted, and incarcerated.  

We can’t ever give him back those 24 years, but we can make sure that he can live as comfortably as possible in his well-deserved freedom. Thank you for contributing to this fundraiser so that Mr. Donald can one day retire from his job and have savings to live on during his retirement.


This fundraiser is a joint effort by Sarah Sumadi, who was one of the many students who worked on Timmy Donald's case with Northwestern University’s Medill Innocence Project in 2009, and Dr. Nicky Ali Jackson, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Purdue University Northwest. Dr. Jackson and Mr. Donald work together on the Willie T Donald Exoneration Advisory Coalition, which addresses re-integration needs of those wrongfully convicted in Indiana.

For the full story of Timmy's case, check out a series of stories from the Northwest Indiana Times , and the Chicago Tribune.


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Sarah Sumadi 
Seattle, WA
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