On Thursday, a Philadelphia man was found not guilty of murder after serving 37 years in jail in a case marred by perjured testimony. He then sued the city of Philadelphia for his 1984 conviction.
Willie Stokes was released from jail earlier this month after a federal court in the United States decided that prosecutors failed to disclose that his key accuser had been charged with perjury after the trial.
The witness claims he was promised sex and narcotics at police headquarters in exchange for framing Stokes in a 1980 dice-game homicide that remains unsolved.
“I’m not resentful. After the brief morning court session, when prosecutors indicated they will not seek a retrial, Stokes, 60, told The Associated Press news agency, “I’m simply thrilled to go forward.”
According to Marissa Boyers Bluestine of the University of Pennsylvania law school, the former executive director of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, more than 100 people have been exonerated and freed from prison in Pennsylvania in recent years.
Stokes, on the other hand, spent the most time in prison.
In the aftermath of social justice rallies following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, homicides have risen in Philadelphia and other major American cities during the coronavirus epidemic, and police are facing increasing scrutiny, especially for prior arrests and prejudice.
After being exonerated, one of two men wrongfully convicted in the 1965 murder of Black civil rights activist Malcolm X sued New York state for at least $20 million in damages.
In Philadelphia, a witness who had identified Stokes as the killer at a preliminary hearing recanted his testimony during the murder trial, citing a “fit of guilt.” Despite this, Stokes was found guilty.
Prosecutors subsequently accused the witness, Franklin Lee, of perjury in connection with his pre-trial evidence, and Lee was sentenced to jail. Until 2015, Stokes had no idea.
“I didn’t believe it,” Stokes said in a telephone interview. “I didn’t believe that they would let something like that happen — that they knew, and they didn’t tell me.”
Stokes’ lone kid, a girl who was two years old when he went to prison, died roughly 20 years ago, according to him. He was not permitted to attend her memorial service. He is now residing with his mum.
“She [has] got a beautiful three-story house, so I’m not in the way,” Stokes said on Thursday, the joy in his voice evident.
The acts of police and prosecutors in the case were atrocious, according to criminal lawyer Michael Diamondstein, who handled Stokes’ successful federal court appeal. “They used skewed evidence to condemn him, then prosecuted the perjurer without telling him.” Willie was then warehoused for 38 years,” Diamondstein explained.
In his view, the official misconduct stemmed from “institutional racism, or pure bias”.
“The cases needed to be closed” in Philadelphia at the time, Diamondstein added. “The inner-city minority were interchangeable, as long as you had someone in the defendant’s chair.”
About two dozen exoneration cases have been championed by Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner. On Thursday, Matthew Stiegler, a supervisor in his office,
stated that the agency concurred with the federal judge who concluded that Stokes’ constitutional rights had been egregiously violated.
Both officers who reportedly offered Lee a sex-for-lies deal in exchange for his assistance in solving the homicide investigation have since died.
“I felt weak and went along with the offer,” Lee told the federal judge in November, recalling his testimony at the May 1984 preliminary hearing.
Meanwhile, Stokes filed a lawsuit against the city on Thursday, alleging “outrageous police misconduct.” The estates of the now-deceased cops are named as defendants in the action.
Two other surviving prosecutors listed in the complaint, who are now in private practice, did not respond to AP requests for comment on Thursday. According to court records, at least one has stated that he has no recollection of the case.
The Philadelphia Police Department did not respond to a request for comment on the incident. On Thursday, the city did not respond to a message requesting comment.
Source: AP News