Man wrongfully charged for murder walks free after 28 years in jail

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Theophalis “Bilaal” Wilson is free after spending 28 years in prison for a murder that he did not commit. Tuesday morning, Wilson was released and was greeted by family and friends. 

Inquirer.com reports that Wilson is the 12th person exonerated by DA Krasner’s conviction Integrity Unit (CIU).   

“It is time for Mr. Wilson to be allowed to go home — that he go home a free man, and that he go home with an apology,” unit chief Patricia Cummings said during court.

Cummings added, “No words can express what we put these people through, what we put Mr. Wilson through. What we put his family through.”

According to Inquirer.com, Common Pleas Court Judge Tracy Brandeis-Roman released him immediately after finding a violation of his due process rights and effective counsel. It also included any material exculpatory evidence in this case. 

Wilson’s exoneration comes within a month of his co-defender, Christopher Williams, being cleared from three 1989 killings. 

Wilson, 48, was a teen when he was accused of helping kill Kevin and Gavin Anderson and Otis Reynolds in North Philly. 

The District Attorney’s Office wrote in an official filing that, “Wilson’s trial was infected by serious prosecutorial misconduct, Brady violations, a critical witness who supplied false testimony, and ineffective assistance of counsel.” The Brady referred to is Brady v. Maryland case, in which prosecutors need to turn over material exculpatory evidence. 

During the 1992 trial, Wilson and Williams were convicted primarily on James White’s testimony. White confessed to six murders. Years later, White recanted, saying he gave false testimony in exchange to escape the death penalty and get released after spending 15 years in jail. 

In 2013, White admitted he lied, after a hearing regarding the Willaims’ case. Forensics sad that the physical evidence discredited his narrative. The narrative was that he was that three men were shot and pushed out of a van in different spots across north Philly. 

After White’s 2013 admission, Williams’ conviction was vacated, but the DA’s office fought for years. 

Wilson was back in court because of the 2016 U.S. Supreme court decision that ruled mandatory life sentences without parole for minors went against the constitution. 

Wilson was denied a resentencing hearing because of the ongoing innocent claim. He told Inquirer.com that, “Pain is a serious motivator,” 

Wilson added, “But I said if I have to give up my actual innocence, that’s something that will never happen.”

He pled with his legal team to stay on his and with some additional resources, such as Jennifer Merrigan, a lawyer with nonprofit Phillips Black. They helped break the case by providing additional evidence within 40,000 pages of documents in February 2019. This document provided additional information such as a corroborating witness, David Lee, and more. 

“This is a great day,” Wilson said after his release.

Wilson added, “Now we got to go back and get the other guys. There’s a lot of innocent people in jail.”

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