Man Wrongly Convicted Of Murder And Imprisoned For 24 Years To Be Set Free


​A Philadelphia man imprisoned for 24 years for a crime he didn’t commit was set to have a hearing Tuesday to determine when he’d be released from prison. Shaurn Thomas, convicted of a murder when he was only 16 years old, was sentenced to life in prison in 1994. Since then, Thomas has maintained his innocence, a fact corroborated by the Pennsylvania Innocence Project and a private law firm.

Thomas, now 43, was finally able to clear his name after nearly a quarter of a century in prison.
“Shaurn engaged in a decades’ long struggle to prove his innocence,” attorney James Figorski of Dechert LLP said, according to NBC Philadelphia. “I joined him in that struggle and many times it seemed that we would never succeed and he would remain in prison for the rest of his life.”

The Pennsylvania Innocence Project, a nonprofit aimed at exonerating those who have been wrongfully convicted, worked alongside Thomas and Dechert LLP to convince the justice system he was innocent. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit eventually re-opened the case and in 2015, his conviction was finally dismissed after a crucial witness admitted they had lied about Thomas’ role in the murder.
On the night the murder occurred, Shaurn had already been detained in juvenile court elsewhere in Philadelphia after having been accused of stealing a motorcycle, according to the Pennsylvania Innocence Project. But the paperwork proving he was detained at the time and could not have committed the murder disappeared.
Thomas’ conviction rested on the testimony of witnesses.
“He said, there’s no evidence against me, other than these two people said,” said Figorski. “And I thought, it’s a murder conviction, must have been some physical evidence or scientific evidence and there wasn’t.”
In addition, a key witness named Ron Smith who saw the murder occur and could corroborate that Thomas was not there was never asked to testify at the trial. Smith said he was told that his testimony “wasn’t consistent with other witnesses” and that he “wouldn’t be needed.”
“They had formed a picture of it. How this murder happened,” said Figorski, who spent 900 hours free of charge investigating Thomas’ case. “They were sticking to that and they didn’t seem to want to hear anything else that interfered with that picture.”
His mother, who was with him when he was detained at the time of the murder all those years ago, corroborating his innocence, said she was glad the ordeal was finally over.
“It makes me feel real good,” Hazel Thomas told WTFX-TV. “Real, real good, cause I finally have him back.”
Thomas’ situation echoes that of Donte Rollins, a 29-year-old Philadelphia man who was released from jail in 2016 after nearly a decade in prison. Rollins was wrongly convicted of a shooting that left a 6-year-old boy paralyzed, until the Pennsylvania Innocence Project stepped in for him.
“This is something he should never have been arrested for,” Marissa Boyers Bluestine, Rollins’ attorney and the legal director at the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, said in December 2016. “There is evidence that should have been presented at length. It’s an egregious violation and his release is a longtime coming.”
Bluestine spent three years working to secure Rollins’ freedom before he was finally released.

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