A man was freed Tuesday after spending 37 years in prison after being convicted in a case that detectives allegedly arranged sex and drugs for key witness testimony.
Willie Stokes, 61, spent 37 years in prison after being convicted of a murder in 1984. He was freed from a Pennsylvania state prison near Philadelphia following an investigation by Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office which found Stokes had not received due process. A federal court overturned Stokes’ conviction last month.
“Today is a tremendous day. We’re all very thankful,” Stokes’ lawyer, Michael Diamondstein, said. “However, it’s also a sad day, because it reminds us of how lawless, unfair and unjust Philadelphia law enforcement was for so long.”
A key witness in Stokes’ case, Franklin Lee, was offered sex and drugs by Philadelphia police in exchange for false testimony. Police made an arrangement with Lee for his girlfriend to visit him and have sex with him, to bring him marijuana and opioids and to provide Lee with a prostitute after his girlfriend refused the plan.
Lee confessed to providing false testimony, and was charged with perjury just days after Stokes’ conviction but Stokes was not informed of Lee’s confession until 2015.
“The homicide prosecutors that used Franklin Lee’s testimony to convict Willie Stokes then prosecuted Franklin Lee for lying on Willie Stokes. And they never told Willie Stokes,” Diamondstein said at a hearing before the federal court.
Krasner’s office has not yet decided whether Stokes will be retried on the murder charges.
“This remarkable case is marked by prosecutorial and policing practices that were too pervasive during the so-called tough-on-crime 1980s and 1990s, and unfortunately persist in far too many jurisdictions today,” Krasner said in a statement Tuesday. “Prosecutors have an obligation to seek justice, and to redefine prosecutorial success – not by ‘wins’ in the form of convictions, but by accuracy and fairness in resolving criminal investigations and prosecutions.”