What to Know
- A federal judge has vacated a 1984 murder conviction of Willie Stokes, a man who had been serving a life sentence in a Philadelphia slaying.
- The judge, supported by Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, said last month that the rights of Willie Stokes were violated because he wasn’t told that a key witness against him had been prosecuted for perjury after his conviction.
- The federal court ordered Stokes retried within 120 days or released.
A federal judge has vacated a 1984 murder conviction of a man who had been serving a life sentence in a Philadelphia slaying.
The judge, supported by the Philadelphia District Attorney Office, ruled last month that the rights of Willie Stokes were violated because he wasn't told that a key witness against him had been prosecuted for perjury after his conviction. The federal court ordered Stokes retried within 120 days or released.
The witness testified in November that he falsely implicated Stokes in the 1980 murder of Leslie Campbell in North Philadelphia because prosecutors at the time promised him a favorable deal on open cases against him. The witness recanted that preliminary hearing testimony at the trial of Stokes.
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Despite that, prosecutors got a conviction and life-without-parole sentence against Stokes and then pursued perjury charges against Lee for recanting his preliminary hearing testimony. For more than three decades, that perjury prosecution and conviction wasn't disclosed to Stokes, who could have used it in his appeals.
“This remarkable case is marked by prosecutorial and policing practices that were too pervasive during the so-called tough-on-crime 1980s and 1990s, and unfortunately persist in far too many jurisdictions today," District Attorney Larry Krasner said in a news release. "Prosecutors have an obligation to seek justice, and to redefine prosecutorial success – not by ‘wins’ in the form of convictions, but by accuracy and fairness in resolving criminal investigations and prosecutions.
"Mr. Stokes’ ordeal over nearly four decades of filing relief petition after relief petition, only to be rejected on procedural bases and without all of the evidence the Constitution says he was owed from the Commonwealth, underscores the urgency of the criminal legal system seeking justice over finality."
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“We just want him home. It’s been a long fight,” Stokes’ sister Renee told The Philadelphia Inquirer. The prosecutor's office hasn't said whether it plans to proceed with a new trial.