PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — In the next day or so, a Philadelphia man who spent the last 11 years in prison for a murder he may not have committed in 2007, is due to be released.
As a smiling 28-year-old Dontia Patterson was led into the courtroom, close to a dozen family members, including his mother and brother, had their eyes fixed on him, responding with broad smiles.
They had just heard the District Attorney’s office would not oppose bail, even though technically, he could be retried on first-degree murder charges. He’s to be released on house arrest with electronic monitoring.
Anthony Voci, the Chief of the Homicide Unit in the DA’s office, told the judge they “have serious concerns about the integrity of the trial conviction.”
“The defendant has a colorable claim of innocence,” Voci said.
In other words, it’s quite plausible Patterson, who was 17 at the time, didn’t shoot and kill his friend outside a grocery store in Lawncrest.
“We have reviewed this matter, and believe that the defendant may be innocent, but we’re not there, yet,” said Voci.
“Innocence isn’t a sound bite. It’s the actual truth,” said defense lawyer Hayes Hunt.
Hunt says the store’s owner, who knew Patterson from the neighborhood, would have testified that the shooter was not Patterson, but neither the prosecution nor the defense called him at trial.
“And that is an indictment of our due process. It was a wrongful prosecution,” Hunt said.
Hunt is with the Cozen O’Connor law firm, which is handling the case pro bono at the request of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project.
It took two trials to convict, the first resulted in a hung jury; the second sent him to prison for life, without parole.
Voci calls the Patterson matter “extraordinary and exceptional,” and after more review, the DA’s office will decide in the coming weeks whether to drop the charges, or retry Patterson.