Many Steps Ahead in Overturned Conviction Case

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Philadelphia Inquirer

    Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams has filed an appeal to reverse an overturned conviction for a man who has spent more than half of his adult life on Pennsylvania's death row.

    Jimmy Dennis was convicted of robbing and murdering 17-year-old Chedell Williams at Fern Rock Transportation center in 1991. A year later he was sent to death row.

    The first sign of hope for Dennis came last year when his conviction was overturned by U.S. District Judge Anita Brody in August. In her ruling, Brody cited numerous flaws in the case against Dennis, calling it "a grave miscarriage of justice.”

    Shortly after Brody entered her order, Williams expressed his disappointment with the overturned conviction and has since filed an appeal to the Third Circuit Court to have Brody's order that would grant Dennis a new trial reversed. The appeal calls Brody's decision erroneous.

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    "The District Court dismissed compelling evidence of Dennis’s guilt as “scant” based on its independent reading of the trial record, statements of individuals who never testified at trial, and expert opinions that were never before the jury or even the state courts," the filing read.

    Executive Director of the national non-profit Death Penalty Information Center Richard Deiter said William's appeal is a part of a long, slow process that could trigger years of additional litigation.

    "This sounds like a case that still has many steps ahead of it. It’s overturned, but that decision can be appealed up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Even assuming he gets a new trial, the whole appeals process could start all over," Deiter said.

    "The death penalty is very frustrating to people on death row, to victims waiting to see the case resolved; police have to come back and testify, judges sometimes deal with these cases their whole lives. It is a frustrating process and it is a slow process. What is at stake here is life or death, so it's appropriate that the courts be careful."

    Tasha Jamerson, a spokesman for William's office said the DA is standing by the original ruling, no matter how long the process may take.

    "It is up to the courts to decide. It could be a week, a month, a year or several years. This defendant was convicted by a jury of his peers and sentenced to death, we stand behind that conviction and that sentence," she said.

    Last week, Williams announced the creation of a new Conviction Review Unit that will be responsible for re-investigating post-conviction claims of new evidence and declarations of innocence. Jamerson says the unit was created in an effort to balance the Office’s interest in investigating good faith claims of innocence with its obligation to defend valid convictions.

    Tonya Sneed, one of Dennis' supporters, said Dennis is hopeful that the appeal will end in his favor.

    "The process is still going on but I think, in general, the team of supporters is pretty positive right now. I think Jimmy is really positive too now," she said.

    "I’ve spoken to him in the last couple of weeks. I think there was a long stretch of time where he seemed very depressed and discouraged, but now I think there’s a great deal of hope."