Saturday, January 10, 2015

After 40 Years, Man Claiming Wrongful Conviction Freed

A Philadelphia judge has ordered the immediate release on parole of a man who has served more than 40 years of a life sentence, which he claimed was the result of prosecutorial misconduct and false testimony.

Clarence Davis was sent to prison in 1971 after being convicted of first-degree murder and other charges stemming from the shooting of bar owner Arthur Gilliard during a robbery. Davis, who claimed his shotgun went off accidentally on the night of the killing, has since alleged that the original prosecutor in the case elicited false statements from two witnesses.

Although Davis is set to be released from prison, he has not been exonerated. At a hearing Thursday afternoon, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Lillian H. Ransom ordered that Davis be placed on immediate parole.

This comes as part of a plea deal between Davis and the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office in which Davis pleaded to the lesser charge of third-degree murder, as well as a robbery charge and two violations of the Uniform Firearms Act.

The murder and robbery charges each carry a penalty of 10-20 years in prison, while the two UFA violations carry a penalty of one-and-a-half-to-three years in prison with a combined total of seven years' probation. Davis' 40-plus years of incarceration have been credited to the sentence and he is set to serve the probationary term.

Assistant District Attorney Robin Godfrey said the state reluctantly agreed to the deal in order to avoid a new trial and the impact it would have on Gilliard's family.

Secondly, Godfrey said, "After 44 years, memories fade, evidence is no longer in existence, and witnesses have died, thereby making it extremely difficult to retry the case."

Godfrey noted that Davis, now 64, has made efforts to rehabilitate himself and has shown sincere remorse.

Daniel Walworth, a Duane Morris attorney representing Davis on a pro bono basis, said Davis did most of the legwork to secure his release over the past 40 years.

"Mr. Davis really carried the ball to the five-yard line," Walworth said of Davis' efforts, which ultimately led to a state Superior Court ruling last year ordering an evidentiary hearing in the case.

Walworth added that Davis was an exemplary inmate, involved in numerous prison programs, helping other prisoners, and earning two associate degrees and one bachelor's degree while incarcerated.

"We were able to convince the judge and to convince the commonwealth that the right thing to do was to let this man out of prison," Walworth said.

According to Davis' court papers, two witnesses at Davis' case were given leniency for charges pending against them in exchange for testifying against Davis.

"At trial, the prosecutor perpetrated a fraud on the court by asking each of the witnesses questions [on] whether they received deals. He elicited the answer he wanted from each as they denied their promised leniency, lying to the judge and jury," court papers said.

Furthermore, Walworth said a police officer submitted an involuntary, unsigned confession in Davis' name after questioning him.

During the recitation of facts at Thursday's hearing, Assistant District Attorney Cari Mahler recounted the events that occurred during the night of Gilliard's death.

Mahler said that on Sept. 10, 1970, Davis and two accomplices decided to rob the Polka Dot Bar in Philadelphia. According to Mahler, Davis told police after the incident that he shot Gilliard accidentally during the course of the robbery. Gilliard died the next day at Temple University Hospital from the shotgun blast to the face.

After Davis agreed to the accounting of the events and delivered his guilty plea, Ransom allowed Gilliard's son, Michael Benson, to speak.

Benson, who was a 19-year-old in the Marine Corps at the time of his father's death, said he wanted Davis to explain what was going through his mind leading up to the murder, as that unanswered question had bothered him and his sister for years.

"We know things happen," Benson said, "that's the way the city is, just tell us what happened."

Ransom said she could not order Davis to answer Benson, but said Davis could have the opportunity to speak.

Addressing Benson and his sister in the gallery, Davis said, "Over 40 years ago, I followed others. Since that time, as I reflect, I've followed my own heart."

Davis explained that since his incarceration, he has devoted his life to helping others in and out of the prison system.

"It's with my current heart that I say to you that I'm so sorry for your loss and all the pain you've had to endure for so, so long," Davis said.

He ended by telling Benson that he'd be willing to communicate with him and explain in detail the events surrounding the shooting death.

Original report here

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