Delaware County

Behind Bars 4 Decades, Man Walks Free After Appeal

Evans was convicted of first-degree murder in Leo’s death in Chester. At the time, he was just 24 years old, a young father and set to marry his high school sweetheart

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After more than 40 years behind bars and six years after another man confessed to the crime, Leroy Evans on Friday walked out of a Delaware County courtroom a free man.

Now 64, Evans had spent the last four decades imprisoned after being convicted of the killing of Emily Leo in 1981. Though his release did not amount to a complete exoneration, the state found that other evidence, including a 2016 statement by a co-defendant denying Evans was involved in the murder, was enough to grant his release on time served.

On Friday, Evans walked out to cheers coming from a large crowd of family, friends and other supporters. “I feel real grateful man, real blessed,” he said, a smile strewn across his face.

Evans was convicted of first-degree murder in Leo’s death in Chester. At the time, he was just 24 years old, a young father and set to marry his high school sweetheart.

Despite the circumstances, Rosemary Simmons never left Evans’ side, and her love for him never wavered. “I had to stay strong for him. There’s many a time I wanted to break down, but I couldn’t because I needed to see him carry his life through,” she said.

Through the decades, Evans maintained his innocence. One of the pieces of evidence used to put him behind bars was testimony from Anthony Jones, an alleged co-defendant. However, Jones’ testimony later proved to be unreliable and inconsistent, and in 2016 he denied Evans was involved in the murder, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office said.

Though the Office of the Attorney General’s Conviction Integrity Section couldn’t fully exonerate Evans – based on other evidence – the CIS agreed that Jones’ 2016 statement saying Evans didn’t kill Leo, as well as new details about the crime, should be considered newly discovered evidence.

A judge agreed, allowing Evans to have a new trial on Friday. That trial resulted in Evans pleading nolo contendere to third-degree murder, meaning he accepted a conviction as if a guilty plea had been entered, but did not actually admit guilt. That plea resulted in him being resentenced to the statutory maximum, allowing him to get out on time served.

“This is a powerful reminder of the importance of ensuring justice for all Pennsylvanians,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a written statement. “For our justice system to function properly, it is critical that convictions are based on facts. Throughout my team’s review of this case, we found that reliance on the co-defendant’s testimony, that was shown to lack reliability over time, led to Mr. Evans’ first degree murder conviction.”

One of the people who fought hardest to get Evans out of prison was his mother Alice Evans, who prayed she would one day get to see her son walk free. Sadly, she died last year of COVID-19, but her prayers were not in vain.

Evans now will spend time with his family, getting to know many of them for the first time. Despite being deprived of his freedom for so long, he said he doesn’t hold any rancor.

“When you have faith in God, bitterness don’t even come in your heart,” Evans said.

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