▶ Watch Video: Sneak peek: “Please Don’t Tell”

In 1977, Vincent Simmons was convicted of two counts of attempted aggravated rape in Marksville, Louisiana, and was sentenced to 100 years in prison after twin sisters Karen and Sharon Sanders accused him of raping them. At the time, the twins were 14 years old, and Simmons was 25. Simmons has always maintained his innocence, and after being sent away to prison, he fought for decades to have his conviction overturned.

Earlier this year, Simmons was finally successful in obtaining a hearing. The judge found that he did not receive a fair trial and he was subsequently released when the district attorney declined to retry him. Simmons walked out of prison three days before his 70th birthday. He had spent 44 years behind bars. 

Since his release, Simmons has been trying to catch up on lost time. CBS News lead national correspondent and “48 Hours” contributor David Begnaud reports on Simmons’ story in “Please Don’t Tell,” airing Saturday, May 21 at 10/9c on CBS and streaming on Paramount +.

“48 Hours”‘ cameras were with Simmons in the days after his release as he adjusted to life outside prison walls and celebrated his 70th birthday. He had his first birthday cake in 44 years. But while Simmons enjoys his freedom, his accusers, Karen and Sharon Sanders, still maintain he is guilty. They say they first encountered Simmons at a gas station on May 9, 1977. They say they were with their then-18-year-old cousin, Keith Laborde, at the time and when Simmons asked for a ride, Laborde agreed.

The twin sisters say Vincent Simmons led them to a desolate road, forced Laborde into the trunk of the car, and then raped the two of them. They say he later let them go — but not before threatening them.

Karen and Sharon Sanders

Karen Sanders

“He told us, ‘If you tell anyone, I know where y’all live. I’ve got friends.’ He said, ‘And I will come back,'” Sharon Sanders recounted to “48 Hours.”

Karen and Sharon Sanders told “48 Hours” that they kept what happened that night a secret — until two weeks later, when Karen Sanders says she decided to confide in Laborde’s sister. Soon, other family members found out and the twins ended up at the sheriff’s office reporting they had been raped. A day later, on May 23, 1977, Vincent Simmons was taken into custody and Karen, Sharon and Keith Laborde, all identified him in a lineup as being their attacker.

Vincent Simmons’ booking photo at Louisiana State Penitentiary.

Louisiana State Penitentiary

Without any physical evidence tying him to the crime, Vincent Simmons went on trial in July 1977 and was convicted of attempted aggravated rape. Shortly after arriving at the Louisiana State Penitentiary to begin his 100-year sentence, he started fighting to get his conviction overturned. In 1993, he received a copy of the prosecution’s file on his case, and it included evidence that had never been presented at his trial.

The evidence included a photo of what appeared to be the lineup and Simmons is the only one in handcuffs. The current district attorney has said that the photograph was taken after the lineup, and Karen and Sharon Sanders say Simmons was not in handcuffs when they saw him in the lineup. 

Also in the file was a report from a doctor who examined the girls two weeks after the reported rape. The report did not document any signs of sexual assault. 

And there were also copies of the initial statements the Sanders twins and Laborde gave to police. Despite testifying at trial that their attacker identified himself by the name “Simmons,” they didn’t give a name in their initial statements. Karen and Sharon Sanders told “48 Hours” they have a reason for that. They said they initially withheld their attacker’s name because they were scared.

Vincent Simmons, second from left, is seen standing in what appears to be a lineup after he was arrested on May 23, 1977. 

Avoyelles Parish District Attorney’s Office

Simmons was convinced that this evidence would have changed the outcome of his trial. In 1997, he presented the evidence to a parole board, but they denied his release. That parole board hearing was featured in a documentary called “The Farm.” When New York City attorney Justin Bonus watched the film almost 20 years later, Simmons’ case caught his interest.

“I was just like, ‘This is disgraceful.’ Like, it made me angry. And that’s why I wanted to help him,” Bonus told “48 Hours.”

Bonus was convinced that Vincent Simmons had been wrongfully convicted and in 2020, he became Simmons’ lawyer and made it his mission to free him. He reached out to Jason Flom, a successful recording industry executive known for launching the careers of Katy Perry, Matchbox 20, and Lorde, among others. Flom is also a criminal justice advocate, and he hosts a podcast called, “Wrongful Conviction,” which has featured big name guests like Kim Kardashian. 

Flom gave Bonus money to hire a private investigator in Louisiana named Brian Andrews to look into the case. Andrews ended up conducting a videotaped interview with Keith Laborde’s cousin, Dana Brouillette.

“Blew my mind, the things that she said,” Andrews told “48 Hours.”

Dana Brouillette told Andrews that long after Vincent Simmons’s trial, she was with Laborde in a bar, and he told her Simmons was never with him and the twins that night.

“He came out and told me, there was never a Black man,” Brouillette told Andrews.

She echoed this in a court affidavit, where she also stated that Keith Laborde told her, “He had consensual sex with one of the girls and locked the other in the trunk.” She also said that Laborde had scratches on his neck.

“He locked Sharon in the trunk and he said the sex between him and Karen was consensual. He said but the other one was a little hellcat. …That’s the one that put scratches on his neck,” Brouillette told Andrews.

Brouillette said that she believes Laborde and the twins made up the story about a Black man to explain away the scratches on Keith’s neck and to hide the fact that he had sexual relations with Karen that night.

In a revealing interview airing on “48 Hours”, Karen Sanders admitted to having had consensual sex with her cousin, Laborde, when she was a child and Keith was a teenager. But she said it happened long before the alleged incident with Simmons and maintains that Simmons is guilty.

Sharon, left, and Karen Sanders.

CBS News

When reached by phone, Keith Laborde denied ever having sex with Karen Sanders. He said they had just, “played around like children” in the past. He also insisted that whatever happened between him and Karen had nothing to do with what Vincent Simmons allegedly did that night.

Defense attorney Justin Bonus doesn’t buy it. He believes Karen and Sharon Sanders and Laborde wanted to cover up what happened that night.

“It gives motive for why they would lie. … It shows that Karen always was hiding something from day one. … So, what do they do? They blame a Black man,” Bonus told “48 Hours.”

Justin Bonus and Vincent Simmons.

CBS News

In February 2022, Bonus succeeded in getting Vincent Simmons a hearing where a judge would decide his fate. The judge decided to vacate Simmons’ conviction, finding that he did not get a fair trial back in 1977, since his defense team didn’t have access to all of the evidence. The judge ordered a new trial but stated he had no opinion on the guilt or innocence of Vincent Simmons. The district attorney declined to retry the case. As a result, Simmons was released from prison. Although his time behind bars is over,  Simmons says his fight is not.

“I still got some work to do, because we have a lot of people in here [prison] that need help … and God got me on a mission,” he said.