The oldest inmate at Graterford Prison, has been released. The 82 year old served more than 40 years for a heinous crime he says he did not commit.
A court ruling on Thursday paved the way for his release, after a long, strange legal battle.
Louis Mickens-Thomas thought he would die in prison. Instead he’s standing in the parking lot of a nondescript restaurant near Graterford Prison, a free man. The 82-year-old with soft eyes and a quiet voice stopped in the chilly weather to talk about his freedom,
“Well I’m quite surprised myself,” Mickens-Thomas said. “What can I say? I’m very fortunate.”
Mickens-Thomas said he left a lot of innocent guys behind. He credited his lawyers with getting him out.
“Didn’t seem like it was possible and they did what was impossible.”
In 1966 Mickens-Thomas was convicted of the rape and murder of a 12-year-old girl in West Philadelphia. The crime lab worker who testified against him, was later exposed as a fraud. At a second trial, he was again found guilty, after the discredited worker’s boss vouched for her findings. Over the years, Mickens-Thomas maintained his innocence.
Len Sosnov, one of Mickens-Thomas’ lawyers, called it one of the most bizarre cases he’s seen. In 1995, his client’s sentence was commuted. A court ordered his release in 2004, but he was sent back to prison a year and a half later.
“The parole board sent him to a group sex therapy program and Lou was required to report all his behaviors, all his thoughts,” Sosnov explained. “And Lou reported to them one day that he had kissed a woman at his church, an age-appropriate woman, an older woman at church and the parole board viewed this as a prohibited sexual act. The whole thing blew up and they removed him from the sex therapy program, which was a violation of his parole–that he didn’t successfully complete it.”
That landed Mickens-Thomas back behind bars.
“He’s been denied parole three or four times since then and each time the parole board’s reasons were that he had not completed their in prison sex therapy program which requires you to admit guilt and Lou has maintained his innocence ever since he’s been arrested.”
Mickens-Thomas is headed to live with his 62 year old nephew in the Poconos, a far cry from Graterford, where inmates and corrections officers lined up to congratulate him just before he left.
Mickens-Thomas maintained his innocence over the years. When he was told he was going to be released, again, he didn’t believe it,
“It just didn’t seem real,” Mickens-Thomas said. “That somebody had won in the court and they had agreed. And they helped me. They told them, let me go. They shouldn’t have been able to do that. Not according to law. They shouldn’t have been able to do any of that.”
His thoughts were interrupted. His first meal on the outside arrived. He mulled his future over eggs, bacon and potatoes.