Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Terrance Lewis: Philadelphia: Police intentional and malicious suppression of witness statements that would have been crucial for the defence): Major (Welcome) Development): He has been exonerated after 21 years in prison and awarded $6.25 in settlement of a lawsuit he brought against the City of Philadelphia rampant police misconduct, coercion of witnesses, and concealment of evidence in his case."... "DEFENSE LAWYERS NEVER KNEW ABOUT ANY OF THAT — NOR WERE THEY AWARE THAT THE GIRLFRIEND HAD ACTUALLY IDENTIFIED A DIFFERENT MAN KNOWN AS STINK, WHICH WAS ALSO LEWIS’ CHILDHOOD NICKNAME, AS ONE OF THE KILLERS. SHE GAVE THEM A NAME AND DESCRIPTION, NOTING THAT THE MAN WAS WEARING A HOUSE-ARREST BRACELET, ACCORDING TO THE COMPLAINT. BUT POLICE PURSUED LEWIS INSTEAD, USING A PHOTO FROM HIS HIGH SCHOOL YEARBOOK TO MAKE UP A PHOTO ARRAY."

BACKGROUND: "According to the lawsuit, the investigation of the murder of Hulon Bernard Howard by three men in his West Philadelphia home on Aug. 6, 1996, was flawed from the start. A neighbor described to police a man who had been looking for Howard, intent on settling a drug debt, the day before the murder, and said the man’s car remained parked outside Howard’s house. The car was never secured, though, and the tip never investigated, according to the complaint. Detectives interviewed Howard’s girlfriend, who had witnessed the crime. They never followed up on portions of her story, according to the lawsuit, and concealed her contradictory statements about whether one of the assailants had fired a shotgun into the ceiling (there was no bullet hole), where Howard was shot, and who was present. DEFENSE LAWYERS NEVER KNEW ABOUT ANY OF THAT — NOR WERE THEY AWARE THAT THE GIRLFRIEND HAD ACTUALLY IDENTIFIED A DIFFERENT MAN KNOWN AS STINK, WHICH WAS ALSO LEWIS’ CHILDHOOD NICKNAME, AS ONE OF THE KILLERS. SHE GAVE THEM A NAME AND DESCRIPTION, NOTING THAT THE MAN WAS WEARING A HOUSE-ARREST BRACELET, ACCORDING TO THE COMPLAINT. BUT POLICE PURSUED LEWIS INSTEAD, USING A PHOTO FROM HIS HIGH SCHOOL YEARBOOK TO MAKE UP A PHOTO ARRAY. “The defendant detectives intentionally and maliciously suppressed these statements … in an attempt to secure a conviction while complete[ly] disregarding Mr. Lewis’ constitutional rights, causing his wrongful conviction and 21 years of wrongful incarceration,” the complaint alleges. The lawsuit, filed by Robert Ross and Kevin Harden Jr. of the firm Ross Feller Casey, argues that the misconduct was part of a broader departmental pattern.'

PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "In a lawsuit filed last year, Lewis alleged rampant police misconduct, coercion of witnesses, and concealment of evidence in his case.


STORY: "Philadelphia man exonerated after 21 years in prison wins $6.25 million settlement,"  by Reporter Samantha Melamed, published by The Philadelphia Inquirer on June 30, 2020.

GIST: "After 21 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, and another year of fighting for compensation, Terrance Lewis won a $6.25 million settlement from the City of Philadelphia on Tuesday — one that came with a long-awaited apology.

“I’m liberated now,” Lewis, 41, said Tuesday evening. “First, I became physically liberated, with the exoneration. Now, economically, financially speaking, I’m free. I’m not chained. Next is my education. I’m going to liberate myself mentally.”

In a lawsuit filed last year, Lewis alleged rampant police misconduct, coercion of witnesses, and concealment of evidence in his case.

Both Lewis and Mayor Jim Kenney said the settlement is a step toward addressing historic inequities in Philadelphia’s criminal justice system. 

“I know that money alone cannot compensate Mr. Lewis and his family for the 21 years he spent incarcerated,” Kenney said in a statement. “And I know that much more must be done to reform our criminal justice system and to help the families and communities that have been torn apart by instances in which the system didn’t work. This work is difficult and takes significant effort and time, but I remain fully committed to it so we can create a more equitable and just city for all Philadelphians.”

Lewis was convicted of the murder of Hulon Bernard Howard inside his West Philadelphia home on Aug. 6, 1996. Lewis’ lawsuit maintained that the murder investigation was deeply flawed, with detectives suppressing evidence that pointed to his innocence.

Lewis, who received support from friends and strangers through GoFundMe after his release, had struggled financially, and recently took a job in a homeless shelter to pay his bills. But his goal, he said, is to help other innocent people access justice. He recently launched a nonprofit, the Terrance Lewis Liberation Foundation, that will investigate claims of wrongful convictions.

Lewis is one of 14 people to be exonerated since District Attorney Larry Krasner took office and created an expanded Conviction Integrity Unit in 2018. His is the second-largest payment to an exoneree, after a nearly $10 million settlement paid to Anthony Wright in 2018.

With the funding, Lewis said, he will have time to take stock and make plans. The first item on his agenda, he said, was re-enrolling his son, Zahaire, who had dropped out of college a few years ago because he ran out of money. Next, Lewis plans to pursue his own bachelor’s degree, and perhaps a law degree.

“Coming home, post-wrongful incarceration, my world was in shambles,” he said. “I came home to COVID and rioting and looting. The racial inequality we still suffer as a nation. I definitely appreciate the administration as it is today in Philadelphia taking a step forward, acknowledging right from wrong, as pertains to past injustices.""

The entire story can be read at:


Read U.S. National Registry of Exonerations entry on Terrance Lewis by Terrance Possley at the link below: 

"At 10:30 p.m. on August 6, 1996, 57-year-old Hulon Howard was fatally shot in his home in the 6100 block of Sansom Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His girlfriend, 36-year-old Lena Laws, said that three young men robbed her of $20 and shot Howard over an unpaid drug debt.

Laws initially told police that she and Howard were in the kitchen. One of the men fired a shotgun into the ceiling and then, after demanding money, the man shot Howard. She identified one of the three as a man she knew by his nickname “Mellow” and said he had dealt drugs out of the basement of the home in the past. She also said the man with the shotgun was nicknamed “Stink.”

The murder investigation stretched over nearly a year until, on July 16, 1997, detectives arrested 19-year-old Jehmar Gladden. The police arrested 22-year-old Jimel “Mellow” Lawson on August 14, 1997. During their investigation, police learned that someone called the Pennsylvania Crime Commission and reported that Terrance Lewis, who was 17, at the time of the murder, was nicknamed “Stink.” Police arrested Lewis, who had been known as “Stink” since he was in diapers, on December 20, 1997.

In May 1999, all three went to trial jointly before a jury in Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas.

The prosecution’s case rested entirely on the testimony of Laws, whose account had changed from her initial statement. While another woman in the house at the time of the shooting had allegedly identified Lewis in a photo array, her identification was questionable and she was not called to testify.

Laws admitted that she was a crack cocaine addict and had smoked some crack within an hour prior to the shooting. She identified Lewis, Gladden, and Lawson. She said that Lewis was the man she initially said had fired the shotgun into the ceiling and then shot Howard. Now, she said that Lewis only racked a round into the chamber of the shotgun and that it was Lawson who killed Howard, but with a handgun.

While before trial Laws said the three had sold cocaine once from Howard’s home, now she testified that they had sold cocaine from Howard’s basement for 50 days in a row prior to the shooting.

No weapons were ever recovered and no forensic evidence linked the men to the crime. On May 24, 1999, Lawson and Gladden were convicted of first-degree murder, armed robbery, and criminal conspiracy. Lewis was convicted of second-degree murder, armed robbery, and criminal conspiracy. All three were sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Their convictions were upheld by the Pennsylvania Superior Court and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declined further appeal.

Beginning in 2002, Lewis, acting without a lawyer, launched what would become a nearly two-decade quest to prove his innocence that culminated on May 21, 2019, when his convictions were vacated and the charges were dismissed.

His first petition under the Pennsylvania post-conviction review act was filed in January 2002 and argued that his attorney had failed to provide an adequate legal defense by failing to call the police officer who had taken Laws’s initial statement that contradicted her trial testimony. The petition was dismissed in 2003 and an appeal of the dismissal was rejected in 2004 by the Pennsylvania Superior Court. The state Supreme Court refused further a further appeal in 2005.

Lewis then filed another state post-conviction petition in September 2005 claiming his trial defense attorney had failed to conduct a proper investigation of the case to look for alibi witnesses. That petition also was based upon a sworn affidavit from Gladden, who admitted he was present at the time of the crime and said Lewis was not there.

Just days after filing that state petition, Lewis also filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus. That action was put on hold while the state petition was being pursued.

In March 2006, by happenstance, Lewis’s younger sister, who worked as a barmaid at the Jack of Hearts Lounge, struck up a conversation with Kizzi Baker, who came in to buy a drink. Baker mentioned that she lived on Samson Street. Baker disclosed that she was on the street on the night of the shooting and saw three men go into Howard’s home, heard a gunshot and saw them leave. Baker knew Lewis and said that Lewis was not one of the three men she saw.

Lewis’s lawyer filed an amended state petition for new trial based on Baker’s statement, but the petition was denied as untimely filed. That denial was upheld on appeal.

Attorney David Laigaie was then appointed to represent Lewis in the federal habeas corpus case. In that proceeding, Lawson provided an affidavit saying that he never knew Lewis and met him for the first time the day they showed up for trial.

On April 29, 2009, U.S. Magistrate Carol Sandra Moore Wells presided over a hearing on the federal habeas petition. Baker testified that Lewis was not among the three men she saw go in and out of Howard’s home. Lewis’s sister, Taneesha Thornton, testified about how Baker first told her what she saw when they were in the Jack of Hearts. Gladden testified that he told his trial defense lawyer that Lewis was not at the scene of the crime, but his lawyer told him not to say anything because it was an admission of being present at the time of the murder. Lewis testified and denied involvement in the crime.

In March 2010, Magistrate Wells concluded that although Lewis was very likely innocent, his petition had to be denied on procedural grounds. “Based upon credible testimony, the court believes that (Lewis) may not have been present at or participated in the tragic events of August 6, 1996; he may be actually innocent,” Wells said.

Magistrate Wells said it was “frustrating” to have to recommend to the U.S. District Judge assigned to the case that Lewis’s petition be denied.

In June 2010, U.S. District Judge Berle Schiller accepted the recommendation and denied the habeas petition. Laigaie—now acting as pro bono counsel—appealed to the Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and to the U.S. Supreme Court, but both courts upheld the denial.

In June 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Miller v. Alabama, holding that the mandatory imposition of a life sentence without parole for a juvenile convicted of murder was unconstitutional.

As a result, Laigaie filed another state petition on behalf of Lewis under the Post-Conviction Review Act. Lewis’s case was one of about 300 such cases in Pennsylvania in which juveniles had been sentenced to life without parole after a murder conviction. Lewis and his legal team, which added Kevin Harden Jr. in 2014, settled in to wait their turn.

By the fall of 2018, when Lewis’s case came up, his lawyers were informed that the court was not resentencing anyone who still had a freestanding claim of innocence—as Lewis did. So, he was faced with a difficult choice—forgo his innocence claim and proceed to sentencing or continue to fight his innocence and hope that if resentenced, he would be released.

At that time, the Philadelphia County District Attorney’s Office had offered Lewis a sentence of 20 years to life, which meant the possibility of parole and release. Lewis decided to abandon his innocence claim and proceed to a resentencing hearing.

On May 21, 2019, the day he was to be resentenced, Lewis and his legal team, accompanied by Lewis’s family, appeared before Common Pleas Judge Barbara McDermott. They hoped that she would sentence him in accord with the state’s offer. However, McDermott instead began questioning whether Lewis had been denied due process.

At Lewis’s attorneys’ urging, the District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit already had conducted an in-depth re-investigation of the case. The review had turned up detective notes from an interview of Lena Laws in which she said that one of the three was known by the nickname “Stink,” but that she knew that man by the last name of Muhammad, not as Terrance Lewis. Those notes had not been disclosed to Lewis’s trial defense attorney. In addition, Laigaie and Harden filed amended state court petitions, naming two more witnesses who were on the street on the night of the murder and who could testify that Lewis was not among the three men who went in and out of Howard’s home.

Patricia Cummings, head of the Conviction Integrity Unit, explained to Judge McDermott that while the prosecution believed Lewis had received an unfair trial, the most expeditious legal route to exoneration appeared to be a return to federal court after Lewis was resentenced.

However, McDermott chose another route—she vacated Lewis’s conviction on the spot. And the prosecution then dismissed the case. Lewis was released the next day from the Chester State Correction Institution, having spent more than 21 years in custody.

On June 28, 2019, Lewis filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the detectives in the case and the city of Philadelphia. The lawsuit was settled in 2020 for $6.25 million"


PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic"  section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to:  Harold Levy: Publisher: The Charles Smith Blog;
FINAL WORD:  (Applicable to all of our wrongful conviction cases):  "Whenever there is a wrongful conviction, it exposes errors in our criminal legal system, and we hope that this case — and lessons from it — can prevent future injustices."
Lawyer Radha Natarajan:
Executive Director: New England Innocence Project;