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Philadelphia Man Freed After Serving 11 Years for Murder He Did Not Commit

A Philadelphia judge has dropped first-degree murder charges against a man who spent 11 years in prison for a shooting he did not commit.

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, New York Times

A Philadelphia judge has dropped first-degree murder charges against a man who spent 11 years in prison for a shooting he did not commit.

Dontia Patterson was 17 when his friend Antwine Jackson was fatally shot on a city street outside a grocery store in January 2007, court documents show. Patterson, who lived nearby, called for help and asked people at the scene if they knew what had happened. But he was charged with murder and after two trials, sentenced to life in prison without parole.

On Tuesday, the Philadelphia district attorney, Lawrence S. Krasner, filed a motion that said his office would not retry Patterson a third time, and that evidence had been withheld during his previous trials, one of which had ended with a hung jury. Krasner requested the charges be dropped, and on Wednesday, Judge Kathryn Streeter Lewis of the Court of Common Pleas agreed.

“I’m just so grateful that finally — after all these years — someone listened to me,” Patterson said in a statement published by the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, whose investigation of the case helped lead the district attorney’s office to re-examine it. “Since I was 17 I’ve been saying I’m innocent, and every day since my arrest.”

Krasner and Anthony Voci, who is in charge of the office’s homicide unit, said in their motion that there was no physical evidence linking Patterson to the crime. “The Commonwealth will not retry a case against a man who is probably innocent and whose case is so lacking in integrity,” they said.

Key evidence was not presented at trial, the motion said, including a document containing information from a confidential source, who said Jackson’s murder was the result of a turf battle by drug dealers and named three suspects.

Two witnesses who identified Patterson had been standing about 120 feet away when Jackson was killed, the motion said. Other more credible witnesses were not called to testify, including the store owner, who knew Patterson and had told investigators he was not the person he saw shoot Jackson.

Voci wrote in the motion that Patterson’s conviction was “an egregious example of police and prosecutorial misconduct in hiding evidence helpful to the defense.”

“The case against Patterson was illogical,” he wrote.

Patterson was tried twice on the murder charges. In August 2008, a jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. But in 2009, another jury convicted him of first-degree murder.

The convictions on murder and weapons charges were vacated this past February, after the Innocence Project and lawyers working with them filed a petition, said Hayes Hunt, one of the lawyers.

A new trial was granted on the murder charges, and in March, Patterson was allowed out of prison under electronic monitoring to await it, Hunt said. The motion from the district attorney’s office said it decided to withdraw from that trial after its own investigation.

Hunt said Patterson was surrounded at Wednesday’s hearing by dozens of family members, but not his 11-year old daughter, who was taking a test at school. “It really was an emotional presentation for Dontia and his family to hear from the government that they believe he was innocent,” Hunt said.

“They took that ankle bracelet from around his ankles, and today he is literally after 11 years free,” Hunt added.

Before Krasner took office earlier this year, he had promised to bring about a change in the culture of the district attorney’s office, including a broad reorganization of its structure. Days after he was sworn in, he made good on the promise, asking 31 employees out of nearly 600 people who worked there to resign. One of his campaign promises had been to reduce the number of people behind bars, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

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