Her husband was wrongfully imprisoned for 21 years, now she’s inspiring others with their story
Antoinette Warner understands the definition of love standing the test of time. Her husband Colin Warner spent 21 years behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit.
Their relationship, dramatized in the new movie, Crown Heights, tells the heartbreaking story of Colin’s arrest at 18 years old in 1980 for the murder of another teenager in Brooklyn.
The movie, adapted from a podcast episode of “This American Life,” powerfully documents Colin (Lakeith Stanfield), his best friend Carl King (Nnamdi Asomugha) and Antoinette’s (Natalie Paul) bizarre and painful navigation of a racist and broken criminal justice system.
Both Colin and Antoinette were childhood friends who didn’t fall in love until later in life–once Colin was actually behind bars–but Antoinette’s belief in his innocence helped her stand by him until he walked free, even as courts rejected his appeals and request for parole.
“There is a master plan and a divine order,” Antoinette told theGrio in an exclusive interview. “You cannot hide a lie, you cannot keep living a lie. The truth, somewhere, must come out. It might not come out in our time, it might not come out when we think it should, but somehow the universe will make sure it is known and that lie is exposed and this is what happened.”
In Colin’s case, two teenagers were interrogated by police after the murder; one who witnessed the crime and another who was the victim’s brother. Both later admitted that police pressured them into picking Colin’s mugshot and put him on the scene, even though he never knew the victim.
The anger of being jailed for a crime he didn’t commit led Colin to initially act out, landing him multiple years in solitary confinement. But eventually Colin tapped into his spiritual strength.
“As I said, we wrote, we talked, we listened,” says Antoinette. “Our letters back and forth were not your basic ‘Hello, how are you doing?’ It was questions and answers: ‘What’s going on with you today? How are you feeling? If you’re feeling depressed this week, I want you to take a spiritual bath with whatever you can find.”
“You see, you can’t think like a prisoner. You’re in there, you know all of what’s going on but you still have to allow your spirit to feed you. And these are the things that allow you to survive.”
Antoinette says she would often visit Colin and bring food to nourish him since he was vegetarian. Even when people questioned her sticking by him, she drew strength from her Rastafari spirituality and his resolve to prove his innocence.
“People say, ‘Why did you stay?’ Well listen. Colin has said it was his journey to walk that path, as miserable as it was. And it was my journey that put me there with him, you understand?
“I held onto that because if I could watch him still smile, still have a good word for human beings, he was my hero. I got strength from that.”
According to estimates by the Innocence Project, there are approximately 120,000 innocent people behind bars.
For families dealing with the pain of loved ones fighting to prove their innocence, Antoinette encourages perseverance.
“Don’t give up because what may not work for somebody else, will work for you,” she says. “You just have to believe in yourself. Believe in your family. Understand and respect, and most of all love. If we don’t have those nothing else will work.”
Even after he came home, Colin and Antoinette’s life had its share of pain. They lost their 13-year-old son in an accidental drowning, and Carl’s younger brother was shot and killed.
But the couple has pressed forward and hopes to inspire others by sharing their story. In 2009, Colin was awarded $2.7 million for the wrongful conviction, and the family moved to Georgia.
“I’m happy because he’s free,” says Antoinette. “And if nothing else, that he got his freedom back and that’s the ultimate prize.”
Watch more interviews from our interviews with the cast of the movie “Crown Heights” on theGrio’s YouTube channel.