Philly DA Letting Men Out Of Prison Just For Being Innocent
Robert "Donald" Outlaw. Photo by Pennsylvania Innocence Project.

A Pennsylvania man who spent more than 15 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit had his conviction thrown out Tuesday, after the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office took another look at the case and found serious problems with the original prosecution. This makes the 17th time a person has been exonerated since Larry Krassner became Philadelphia's top prosecutor and set up a Conviction Integrity Unit in the DA's office.

We can't possibly top the lede from the Philadelphia Inquirer, so instead we'll share it with you.

In 2000, after Jamal Kelly was fatally shot on a street in East Germantown, he used his last breaths to implicate his killer. "Shank did it," he repeatedly told police who arrived at the scene.

Yet, Donald Outlaw — who was then a teenager, notably not nicknamed "Shank" — was convicted and served more than 15 years in prison for the murder.

Outlaw, sentenced to life without parole, had insisted all along that he was innocent, and his case was taken up by the Pennsylvania Innocence Project. This is the project's 20th exoneration since it was founded in 2009.

Outlaw has actually been out of prison on bail since his conviction was vacated in January after the chief witness in the case, Charles Paladino, recanted his testimony and said he had actually made it up with the help of Philadelphia detectives. But wait, there's more!

Another eyewitness — who actually saw the neighborhood man known as Shank shoot Kelly — was discovered only after Outlaw's wife, Monique Solomon Outlaw, began posting fliers in the neighborhood where the crime occurred, asking anyone with information to come forward.

The DA's office had originally planned to retry the case, at least until the CIU reexamined it and found just a small problem or two, and such as:

The CIU, in its filings, said it reinterviewed Paladino, learning that he had cooperated with detectives in at least one other homicide case, and uncovering further evidence that his claims against Outlaw were not to be believed.

The head of the CIU, Patricia Cummings, said that once the 2004 conviction was set aside, the DA's office had to look at the case anew, with a presumption of Outlaw's innocence, and to ask "can you prove this person committed a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. And my position from reviewing the case is you can't." Gee, wouldn't that be a refreshing thing to see all across the criminal justice system?

Outlaw's attorney, Edward J. Foster, with help from the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, had been working on his case since 2017, and found a letter in Outlaw's file that should have been turned over to the defense in the original trial. In the letter, Paladino asked homicide Det. Howard Peterman for immunity from prosecution in a drug possession case, and tried to impress on Peterman what a terrific witness Paladino could be, saying, "I've put together a speech for the upcoming trial. I'm sure you'll be happy with it," and advising the detective, "I've learned a lot about being a witness, so, please, help me to help you."

The Inquirer notes, "Contacted by phone Tuesday morning, Peterman hung up on a reporter without commenting." Which is, in its way, quite the comment. In addition to the letter, Outlaw's file also included

notes indicating detectives received a tip on, and investigated, an entirely different suspect, whose car appeared to match one witnesses described as leaving the scene.

Cummings, of the CIU, said she considered the investigation into Jamal Kelly's murder "a generally really poor quality investigation," which the Inquirer said was mild compared to some of her previous castigations of bad police work in other exoneration cases.

But she found it "disturbing" that police had ignored Kelly's dying declaration — even though at one point records show they had identified and investigated Shank — and instead pursued Outlaw. In fact, Shank became one of four men who gave statements against Outlaw that they recanted at trial, a failing that prosecutors at the time blamed on witness intimidation.

Yes, you read that right: Four witnesses recanted their statements to police, and the prosecutors explained that away by suggesting they'd been scared out of testifying at trial.

And yet again, we find out that the prosecution in a murder case somehow didn't manage to get exculpatory evidence to the defendant's attorneys. That's supposed to be illegal as fuck, but it appears to be depressingly common, unless all the true crime podcasts have been fibbing to me.

Still, now that that bogus conviction is finally gone, Donald Outlaw can get on with his life, nearly half of which was spent fighting off a false accusation that he'd murdered someone. Here's hoping he can also get a great big settlement for that.

[Philadelphia Inquirer / Philadelphia Inquirer / Pennsylvania Innocence Project]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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