On Tuesday, a Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge dismissed the murder convictions of two men serving life sentences. The dismissals were based on problems with the eyewitness testimony and on new evidence of another inmate’s confession.
The Associate Press reported that Judge Rose Marie DeFino-Nastasi found the 1998 trial evidence against Pennsylvania Innocence Project client Eugene Gilyard and co-defendant Lance Felder to be “ ‘terribly weak.’ ” She ordered new trials for both men
Gilyard and Felder were 18 years old when they were convicted of the
1995 shooting death of a restaurant owner. The victim’s daughter, the
only eyewitness of the crime, contradicted her description of the
shooter several times. In 1995, she told police the suspect was
light-skinned, but at the trial, she said he was dark-skinned. She also
said that the perpetrators were at least six feet tall and looked about
26 years old. Gilyard is 5’8” and Felder is 5’6”; they were only 16 at
the time of the crime. According to the Associated Press, DeFino-Nastasi
“ ‘We can't have these inconsistencies in a case based solely on identification.’ ”
In addition to the eyewitness misidentification, the Pennsylvania
Innocence Project obtained a 2011 confession of the crime from a man
serving a life sentence for another murder. Although the prosecution
argued that the man who confessed was offered money by supporters of
Gilyard and Felder, Judge DeFino-Nastasi said the man had been named a
suspect from the very beginning of the case.
The District Attorney's Office has 30 days to decide if it will appeal.
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