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Philadelphia Man On Death Row For 21 Years Wins New Trial

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(Credit: Thinkstock)

(Credit: Thinkstock)

Steve Tawa Steve Tawa
Steve Tawa joined KYW Newsradio in 1990, and splits his time between...
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By Steve Tawa

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Saying that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has committed a grave miscarriage of justice, a federal judge is ordering the Philadelphia district attorney’s office to retry a man on death row within six months or set him free.

In a scathing 46-page ruling, US District Court judge Anita Brody wrote that she was “concerned that James Dennis was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to die for a crime he did not commit.”

Dennis, now 42, was convicted in 1992 of the shooting death of a high school student for her gold earrings.

Brody says Dennis was convicted based on “shaky eyewitness identifications” to the 1991 shooting, on the steps of the Fern Rock SEPTA subway station, which killed 17-year-old Chedell Williams.

In a statement today, DA Seth Williams said he is disappointed in what he called the judge’s “acceptance of slanted factual allegations by the defendant’s criminal defense lawyers.”

But attorney Ryan Guilds, who now represents Dennis, thinks the problems with the case, on both the prosecution and defense sides, were substantial.

“There were so many pieces of evidence that were not used in the proceeding before the jury, and also things that came out in the proceeding itself which called into question Jimmy’s guilt.”

Guilds says two decades on death row have taken a toll on Dennis, but he says he now hopes to be reunited with his mother and two daughters, one of whom was born while he was in prison.

Judge Brody went on to write that “regardless of Dennis’ possible innocence, there can be no question that the Commonwealth violated his right to due process of law by withholding exculpatory evidence that would have made a difference at trial.”

She concludes that Dennis is entitled to receive either a new trial or his freedom.

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