Leroy Evans’ loved ones are confident they will soon embrace him with open arms, beyond the prison walls of State Correctional Institution Dallas in Luzerne County.
His family, Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland, State Sen. Anthony Williams, the Delaware County Black Caucus, the Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration, and members of the Chester city community came together Thursday to push for Evans’ release.
Evans has served more than 40 years in jail for crimes he, his family, and defense attorney Michael Malloy say he did not commit. In 2017, Anthony Jones confessed to the 1980 murder of their neighborhood “Avon lady,” Emily Leo, in Chester. Jones gave a nearly 70-page sworn statement recanting his trial testimony implicating Evans, who has argued he is innocent for over four decades.
Two years ago, a branch of the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General, the Conviction Integrity Section, began to investigate Evans’ 1981 conviction. This year, the investigation concluded, and now Malloy is confident Delaware County Court will schedule a new hearing for Evans.
“We are optimistic,” Malloy said Thursday. “I’ve been on this case for six years now, and all we’ve really ever asked is for someone to listen, listen to him, and to just take a look. [His guilty verdict] doesn’t make any sense, it makes no sense at all.”
On Tuesday, Malloy filed a petition with the court to take a second look at the case, seeking Evans’ release. Malloy also is hoping for a recommendation from the Attorney General’s Office that Evans be freed.
The petition says the investigation by the AG’s Office “revealed and determined some additional evidence that would suggest that this might have been a wrongful conviction.”
According to Malloy, the investigation validated evidence including the 70-page recorded statement from Jones, who confessed to murdering Leo by himself and hiding the money stolen from Leo.
Evans’ original statement in 1980 included the assertion that he “bludgeoned Leo to death,” but Malloy said that statement doesn’t concur with the crime scene. There wasn’t “a drop of blood in that house,” said Malloy.
Twenty-four years old at the time of his conviction, Evans was persuaded to plead guilty after being threatened with the death penalty, Malloy said.
It’s a long time coming for justice, Evans’ family and local leaders said Thursday morning.
“For over four decades, we felt it was only appropriate to not only recognize but to publicly stand with Leroy Evans, because he is a true testament to what courage and resilience looks like,” said Arnold Jones, chair for the judicial law committee of the Delaware County Black Caucus. “We demand that our criminal justice system right the wrong that was done to Leroy 41 years ago, and release him immediately.”
The community has long been seeking “equality, equity, and fairness and balance in this judicial system in this country,” said State Sen. Williams.
In making a statement in support of Evans’ release, Chester Mayor Kirkland also thanked attorney Malloy for his work.
“We stand in solidarity, to try to bring home someone who is innocent,” said Kirkland. “These men and women who stand behind me and beside me are committed to doing what is right, committed to justice, committed to upholding the law, and committing to seeing truth is… well, that truth prevails.”
Evans’ nephew, Eric Evans of Chester, was 3 years old when his uncle was incarcerated.
“It was devastating for us as a family,” said Eric Evans. “He was that male figure that we all looked to. They took away our male matriarch … No one can hear our voice. We’ve been crying out for 42 years.”
He said Leroy Evans is his father figure, as well as a mentor who taught all his nieces and nephews “how to cope with life.”
Eric Evans runs FiDonce, an organization that’s about instilling confidence in kids “on and off the [basketball] court.” A program called “From the Baller to the Briefcase” helps kids transition into careers in the business world.
He said this moment, anticipating his uncle’s release, is “bittersweet” without the foundation of the family: Leroy Evans’ mother, Alice Evans, who provided Evans and the family with emotional and spiritual support and fought for 41 years for her son’s release.
In heaven, Eric Evans said, Leroy’s sister and his mother “are crying tears of joy. But we will not be satisfied until Leroy Evans’ feet touch the ground outside.”
“The evidence, and like so many other cases, is overwhelming,” he said.
Leroy Evans’ case falls in line with a pattern of wrongful convictions in the 1980s and ’90s across the commonwealth. That’s part of the reason why Attorney General Josh Shapiro created the Conviction Integrity Unit in 2020.
“It needs to be looked at with a real fine-toothed comb,” said Eric Evans. “Because some of those people that are incarcerated are not blessed enough to come out alive. Some die in there wrongfully convicted.”
He said he’s looking forward to doing the “normal things” again with his uncle, like family dinners. He plans to take him to the beach, so he can feel the sand on his feet.
Leroy Evans’ sisters, who exclaimed joyfully Tuesday morning, said they are just waiting to embrace their brother. They believe it will happen soon.
“We want to come and put our arms around him,” said Niecy Evans. “We’re waiting for him. He’s getting ready to come here into some joy.”