Newly minted Philadelphia district attorney Larry Krasner promised to turn the city’s broken criminal justice system on its head — and he’s wasting no time.
Krasner’s office filed a motion Tuesday accusing his predecessors of committing “egregious” misconduct in the case of Dontia Patterson, who's spent 11 years behind bars for a murder he says he didn’t commit. The motion, filed by the DA’s new chief of homicide, makes the case for Patterson’s innocence and recommends that he be set free. “Patterson’s conviction is an egregious example of police and prosecutorial misconduct,” Anthony Voci wrote.
It’s the second high-profile move by Krasner in a few weeks, after his office helped secure the release of rapper Meek Mill, whose case became a cause celebré for reformists across the country. The progressive Democrat was elected DA in November in the city with the highest per capita incarceration rate among the 10 largest U.S. cities. He made a name for himself representing Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street activists, filing a total of 75 lawsuits against the Philadelphia Police Department while he was a defense attorney.
Tuesday’s motion makes damning allegations that police and the two prosecutors who handled Patterson’s case hid convincing evidence leading to a different suspect in the murder of Antwine Jackson, who was shot dead in broad daylight in January 2007. Jackson and Patterson were friends at the time. The motion asserts the individuals who secured the conviction violated the U.S. Constitution and the Pennsylvania constitution, which says all evidence helpful to the defense should be revealed before trial.
The entire case hinged on two eyewitness accounts from far away, and the fact that Patterson was seen in the street near Jackson’s body after the shooting and appeared distraught. No motive was ever identified.
According to the motion, the prosecutors and police withheld information relayed by a confidential source saying that Jackson and another suspect were locked in a drug turf war.
The suspect, who was himself murdered five months after the shooting, reportedly fled the scene after Jackson was shot. Voci also submitted police memos of unrecorded interviews with witnesses that led to the second suspect. They were never formalized into written statements, nor were they given to the defense.
Patterson’s conviction was vacated in February on the basis that he received ineffective defense counsel: his lawyer never called shop owner Gregorio Mercado, who witnessed the shooting and held that Patterson was not responsible, to the stand. Krasner’s office recently interviewed Mercado and concluded he was a credible witness. Patterson has since been on house arrest while a new trial date was being determined. If a judge signs off on Voci’s motion, Patterson will be a free man.
Former homicide prosecutor Richard Sax, who is one of the individuals named in the motion, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the DA’s decision to support Patterson’s exoneration was a “horrific travesty of justice,” and believes that Krasner is acting on personal animus. “To have a political [dismissal] because the district attorney really doesn’t like the second of two prosecutors who tried the case is horrific,” Sax told the Inquirer.
A spokesperson for Krasner’s office told VICE News they had no further comment about the case beyond what’s in the motion.