City awards West Philly man $750,000, settling claim of coerced murder confession

Philadelphia has agreed to pay two individuals $250,000 after they were targeted by police for filming officers on duty. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY, file)

Philadelphia has agreed to pay two individuals $250,000 after they were targeted by police for filming officers on duty. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY, file)

The city of Philadelphia has awarded $750,000 to a West Philadelphia man who claimed in a lawsuit he was forced by police to admit a double murder he did not commit.

Nafis Pinkney, 28, spent four years in jail awaiting trial on charges of killing Nakeisha Finks, 20, and her 21-year-old boyfriend, Jonathan Pitts. A jury in 2013 acquitted Pinkney.

The award was in Philadelphia’s best interest, according to a spokesman with the city solicitor’s office.

Pinkney was a friend of Pitts, and investigators said he was the last person to see Pitts before the slayings on Aug. 29, 2009. At first, according to Pinkney’s lawyer Greg Pagano, homicide detectives viewed Pinkney as a potential witness. But after hours of interrogation, they focused on him as a suspect.

“There were no other leads or suspects at the time, so it was purely a hunch, and that’s what led to him being charged,” Pagano said. “But it was a flawed theory.”

Over the course of more than 24 hours of harsh questioning, Pinkney was willing to do whatever it took to be released, Pagano said. His client wanted to get back to his job at the Philadelphia International Airport, where he worked fueling airplanes.

“If you hold someone long enough, they’re going to tell you want they want to hear. They’re going to tell their captors what they want to hear. With the hope — and the promise — that they’re being released,” Pagano said. “That’s why he confessed to something he didn’t do.”

Not long after a jury cleared Pinkney of his role in the double murder, Philadelphia police enacted a new policy requiring that interrogations about major crimes be videotaped as an accountability measure.

Last year, Philadelphia resident James Barrow, 31, who has a lengthy criminal record of violent offenses, told police he killed Finks and Pitts, as well as another victim a week before the couple was shot to death. Prosecutors charged Barrow with that third slaying, but he has not been charged in connection with the double murder.

“The other murder happened a mile away, the same modus operandi, the same method of killing, and there is ballistic evidence,” said Pagano. “Hopefully, now that our case is settled, it will open the door to charging Barrow and getting the victims’ families to be made whole.”

Cameron Kline, spokesman for the Philadelphia district attorney’s office, declined to comment on whether prosecutors plan to pursue double murder charges against Barrow.

Pinkney testified during his trial that the coerced confession was extracted after he was assaulted and fed information by two detectives, James Pitts and Ohmarr Jenkins. Pitts is no relation to murder victim Jonathan Pitts.

According to the Philadelphia Daily News, which first reported details of the settlement, two other suspects who confessed after questioning by Pitts and Jenkins have been exonerated after their cases were re-examined.

 

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