PHILADELPHIA - A Philadelphia judge has agreed to allow prosecutors to drop charges against a man who served eight years in prison in a 2012 murder before his conviction was tossed out earlier this year.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports, however, that the action by Common Pleas Court Judge Rose Marie DeFino-Natasi followed an unusually contentious hearing Friday in which the judge didn't extend an apology to 31-year-old Jahmir Harris and also didn't express clear support for the view that he was innocent.
The judge instead upbraided the chief of the district attorney's conviction integrity unit, calling her theory pointing to an alternate suspect "unsubstantiated" and her filings "utterly inappropriate" and designed to "harass and influence the court."
DeFino-Natasi had sentenced Harris, who was released Friday, to life after jurors deliberated for 1 1/2 days and then convicted him of gunning down 25-year-old Louis Porter in front of his 5-year-old son in a south Philadelphia parking lot two days before Christmas in 2012. Authorities said the slaying was over a $3,900 drug debt.
The case hinged on the testimony of one eyewitness who saw the killer's face only briefly and gave different statements about whether there were one or two shooters. Prosecutors said they found evidence in the police homicide file pointing to a different suspect, and cellphone records indicated the defendant was miles away when the shooting occurred.
DeFino-Nastasi agreed to vacate the conviction in January, citing the failure of prosecutors to disclose relevant information, but she had declined to drop the charges, ordering prosecutors to do a more thorough investigation and show that Harris and the other suspect they cited hadn't colluded in the slaying. On Friday, she expressed a lack of confidence in the district attorney's investigation.
Defense attorney Michael Wiseman, however, praised the work of the conviction integrity unit, saying it reflected "the highest integrity, honesty, and diligence of any lawyer I’ve ever worked with." District Attorney Larry Krasner said his staff is "required to stand for the truth" and he felt that was done in the case.
The victim's wife of 18 years, Nickole Porter, said she remained convinced of the defendant's guilt. She said her three children have struggled with the trauma of their father's death, especially the now-13-year-old who witnessed the slaying.
"The nightmares have finally stopped," she said. "We just started getting sleep at night, and you’re telling me my husband’s murderer is able to walk the streets? Now what message are you sending to the city?"
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