A Philadelphia man who has maintained his innocence in a murder case for nearly three decades has been ordered freed from prison after a judge overturned his conviction.
Willie Veasy’s long-running appeal came to an end Wednesday morning, when a judge tossed out the murder conviction, telling the 54-year-old Veasy “You’re a free man,” as a crowd in courtroom erupted in applause. He’d spent 27 years in prison.
Veasy’s sister, Ketra, told reporters that she never lost faith that her brother would be released from prison.
“My brother is free. My brother is free, free. Can’t nobody take that away from him,” she said.
Veasy’s case is one of two that the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office was reviewing due to ties to two former detectives accused of using threats, false promises or abuse to coerce suspects into confessing to murders they didn’t commit. The exoneration is the 10th since Larry Krasner was elected the city’s district attorney.
Patricia Cummings, head of the expanded conviction integrity unit of the prosecutor’s office, filed a motion agreeing with lawyers for the defendant and the Pennsylvania Innocence Project that Veasy was “likely innocent” because prosecutors now believed a confession he signed had been coerced.
Veasy insisted for decades that he didn’t kill John Lewis on a north Philadelphia street corner in 1992. His attorneys pointed to the admission of an eyewitness that her eyesight was poor and maintained that evidence indicated he had been working in Jenkintown at the time of the killing.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Mark Gilson, the prosecutor during Veasy’s 1993 trial, said in an interview this week that Veasy’s alibi and the eyewitness’ vision problems were both considered by a judge and jury. He said if prosecutors now believe his statements were coerced, they should present evidence before a judge rather than filing motions filled with new accusations.
“I think the process to, in essence, exonerate them…should be similar to the public trials in which they were convicted,” said Gilson, who was among the 31 prosecutors Krasner fired during his first week in office.