Image Credits: JESSICA GRIFFIN .
The case of Willie Stokes is about as egregious as you can imagine. In 1984, a murder took place during a dice game. The Philadelphia police offered Franklin Lee sex and drugs to falsely testify that Stokes committed the homicide. Lee obliged at Stokes’ preliminary hearing but then had a pang of conscience and recanted at the actual murder trial.
Nonetheless, the jury convicted Stokes. Thereafter, Lee was prosecuted for perjury at the preliminary hearing, but Stokes was never informed of this. He spent 37 years in prison based on the testimony of a convicted perjurer who didn’t even stand by his testimony. Stokes rotted in prison for decades not realizing that he had a solid case for having his conviction thrown out.
“I didn’t believe it,” Stokes said in a telephone interview. “I didn’t believe that they would let something like that happen — that they knew, and they didn’t tell me.”
Stokes was only released in early January and is now living with his mother. He daughter was 2 years old when he went to prison, and she died at 22, Stokes wasn’t allowed to attend her funeral. Now he’s suing the Philadelphia police department, and I hope he gets a big settlement. The detectives responsible for setting him up are deceased, but two of the prosecutors are alive. One isn’t answering questions and the other says he doesn’t remember the case.
Criminal lawyer Michael Diamondstein, who handled his successful federal court appeal, called the actions of police and prosecutors in the case outrageous.
“They used perjured evidence to convict him and then charged the perjurer, and never told him. And then Willie was warehoused for 38 years,” Diamondstein said
In his view, the official misconduct stemmed from “institutional racism, or pure bias.”
“The cases needed to be closed. The inner city minority were interchangeable, as long as you had someone in the defendant’s chair,” he said.
Simple justice demands that the people who knowingly conspired to frame Stokes should do at least 37 or 38 years in prison, and if that is effectively a life sentence, that’s just too bad. But all that’s on the table right now is a big financial reward which could never compensate Stokes for what he lost.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has championed about two dozen exoneration cases. A supervisor in his office, Matthew Stiegler, said Thursday the office agreed with the federal judge who found that Stokes’ constitutional rights were egregiously violated.
There’s a reason progressives fought to elect District Attorney Krasner. Philadelphia desperately needed a culture change.