Federal judge vacates 1984 Philadelphia murder conviction

The U.S. Courthouse in Philadelphia, at 6th and Market streets. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

The U.S. Courthouse in Philadelphia, at 6th and Market streets. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

A federal judge has vacated a 1984 murder conviction of a man who had been serving a life sentence in a Philadelphia slaying.

The judge, supported by Philadelphia’s prosecutor, ruled last month that the rights of Willie Stokes were violated because he wasn’t told that a key witness against him had been prosecuted for perjury after his conviction. The federal court ordered Stokes retried within 120 days or released.

The witness testified in November that he falsely implicated Stokes in the 1980 murder of Leslie Campbell in North Philadelphia because prosecutors at the time promised him a favorable deal on open cases against him. The witness recanted that preliminary hearing testimony at the trial of Stokes.

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Despite that, prosecutors got a conviction and life-without-parole sentence against Stokes and then pursued perjury charges against Lee for recanting his preliminary hearing testimony. For more than three decades, that perjury prosecution and conviction wasn’t disclosed to Stokes, who could have used it in his appeals.

“We just want him home. It’s been a long fight,” Stokes’ sister Renee told The Philadelphia Inquirer. The prosecutor’s office hasn’t said whether it plans to proceed with a new trial.

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