DA finds man wrongfully convicted for 2006 murder in Nicetown, exonerated after 15 years

After being wrongfully convicted for murder 15 years ago, one man is on his way to freedom according to the DA. 

David Sparks of Nicetown was ordered to be freed from prison on Monday by the Court of Common Pleas Judge Scott DiClaudio, 17 years after being picked up by police for violating a curfew for teens and 15 years after being convicted for a murder. 

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) informed the court that the Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) petition that Sparks filed should be granted and that his 2008 murder conviction for the 2006 shooting death of fellow teen Gary Hall should be vacated. 

As the CIU investigated the 2008 conviction and underlying 2006 murder of Hall, they say they found that Sparks’ constitutional rights were violated during trial because of the suppression by Philadelphia Police Homicide detectives of information from witnesses implicating another suspect, Ivan Simmons, and his brother, in Hall’s murder and the suppression of information from Philadelphia Police investigators who also considered Simmons and his brother to be a suspect in the murder of Larres Curry a block away just days earlier.

The DA says Simmons was linked to both homicides and notes in the police file indicate ballistics evidence from both murders were of the same caliber. Then, CIU requested Philadelphia Police Department’s Firearms Identification Unit to conduct a ballistics comparison. Once the analysis was complete, it determined that the weapon used to kill Hall was the same weapon used to kill Curry days earlier.

The ballistics analysis established that Simmons, who already a suspect in the Curry murder, had access to the weapon that was then used to kill Hall, according to the DA.  

Simmons, a teen from the same Nicetown neighborhood as Sparks, was shot and killed in December 2006, just as Sparks was awaiting his preliminary hearing for the murder of Gary Hall. Police have not named a suspect or made an arrest for Simmons’ murder. 

Information from the investigation of his murder indicate that PPD viewed the crimes as part of a series of shootings between two rival groups in Nicetown. 

According to documents, police suspected that the Hall and Simmons murders were linked, and that the individuals involved believed Simmons was killed in retaliation for murdering Hall, were not disclosed to the prosecutor or defense attorney before trial. 

Nick Walker was then placed at the scene of Hall’s murder by other eyewitnesses. However, Walker was not interviewed by police until he was arrested and charged with committing a 2007 quadruple shooting of four of Hall’s associates. Walker waived his Miranda rights and confessed, explaining how the cycle of retaliatory shootings had begun: "This happened right after Ivan killed Gary. Money was on my head because I would hang with Ivan." 


3 murder convictions overturned in Philadelphia after DA finds men were wrongfully convicted

Three men are on their way to freedom after their murder convictions were overturned by the Court of Common Pleas Thursday.

CIU Supervisor Michael Garmisa acknowledged the pain caused to Gary Hall’s family who had to re-live the traumatizing experience after their 19-year-old, high school graduate, who aspired to become skilled in the carpentry trade was tragically killed.

"He and his loved ones, and all victims of violence, deserve a criminal legal system that seeks to avoid such devastating errors." said Garmisa.   

In addition, new information further undermines Sparks’ conviction for the murder of Hall. 

The Commonwealth relied primarily on two witnesses, 14 and 16-year-old cousins at the time of Hall’s murder who gave inconsistent statements about Sparks’ and Simmons’ role in the crimes which the court itself acknowledged before convicting Sparks. One of the cousins has since recanted much of her testimony against Sparks, and told the CIU that she was no longer confident in her identification of Sparks as the shooter.  

Though multiple witnesses placed Simmons and his brother at the scene by multiple witnesses, they fled the scene and evaded detention for the curfew violation that ended up catching Sparks.   

Sparks is expected to be released from prison later on Monday.