Theophalis Wilson Exonerated After 28 Years in Pennsylvania Prison

Theophalis Wilson was released on Tuesday after a Philadelphia court vacated his wrongful conviction and dismissed all charges against him. He is the 12th person exonerated by District Attorney Larry Krasner’s Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU).

Mr. Wilson was arrested and charged with murdering three people in North Philadelphia when he was just 17 years old. Mr. Wilson and his 29-year-old co-defendant, Christopher Williams, were convicted in 1993. Because he was under 18, Mr. Wilson was automatically sentenced to life imprisonment without parole; Mr. Williams was sentenced to death.

As the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, the prosecution’s case turned on the testimony of James White, a six-time convicted first-degree murderer who claimed to be an accomplice in the murders. Prosecutors admitted in a court filing in 2001 that they had no case against Mr. Wilson or Mr. Williams “unless the jury believed White.”

At a 2013 hearing in Mr. Williams’s case, James White admitted that he lied at trial in exchange for a plea agreement to avoid the death penalty. Forensics experts also testified that the physical evidence discredited Mr. White’s story that the three men were shot and pushed out of a moving van. The court granted Mr. Williams a new trial because his trial lawyer failed to present this expert evidence, which “would likely have changed the jury’s mind” about believing Mr. White and resulted in acquittal.

But even after its crucial witness was completely discredited, the District Attorney’s Office planned to retry Mr. Williams. In response to pretrial discovery requests, prosecutors steadfastly refused to turn over their case file to the defense. READ THE REST

MY CLIENT, TRAVIS RUNNELS, DID NOT DESERVE TO DIE. The death penalty is the rot at the core of our culture and our values.

The Texas death chamber is painted teal, like a doctor’s surgical scrubs. The tiny room, barely large enough to hold the gurney that my client Travis Runnels was strapped to, was antiseptic in its cruelty. Travis was already in position when my co-counsel Janet VanderZanden and I, along with three of Travis’s close friends, entered the cramped observation room. Travis was alone in the death chamber on the other side of the plexiglass, lying prone with his right arm held out to his side, and a needle in his skin ready to fill him with poison. A microphone hung from the ceiling just above his head, ready to record his last words, but Travis refused to participate in that grim ritual.

Travis instead spent his final moments sharing a kind smile and mouthing “I love you” to his friends. His final actions reaffirmed what he had already told us: that he had been strong to the end, that our lives would go on, and that he would no longer have to bear the torture of isolation on death row.

This was classic Travis. He had been sent to death row for killing Stanley Wiley, a factory supervisor at the prison where Travis was serving a 70-year sentence for robbery. Since landing on death row, however, he changed his life around. READ THE REST