Philadelphia man exonerated after 34 years by evidence in police file

Curtis Crosland was found guilty of murder despite three eyewitnesses to the robbery who said he was not the killer

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A Philadelphia man has been cleared of murder and released from prison after 34 years by evidence that was suppressed by investigators.  

Curtis Crosland, 60, was convicted for the 1984 murder of South Philadelphia store owner Il Man Heo and sentenced to life in prison. However, on Thursday, he was released from the State Correctional Institution Phoenix in Montgomery County.

The move came after District Attorney Larry Krasner’s Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) concluded that investigators withheld evidence pointing to another suspect. They also illegally concealed information about witnesses who said Crosland was the killer. 

U.S. District Judge Anita Brody ordered Crosland released this week, and the DA formally dropped the charges, as reported by Inquirer.com. In her order, Brody noted that “The responsibility of doing justice does not disappear once a conviction is achieved. In some circumstances, the duty to seek truth can and should extend to cases long closed.”

The victim’s family has long believed in Crosland’s innocence. Charles Heo, 50, recalled being a teenager and telling his mother, “We got the guy.” 

“We believed him,” he said of Crosland. Charles’ father was fatally shot during a robbery at his H&B Grocery Store by a masked man who called him by his first name, according to the report.

“There was an injustice in this case,” Charles Heo said, “and the ripple effects caused untold damage through our family’s lives, through the Crosland family’s lives.”

CIU supervisor Patricia Cummings said Crosland’s case “has all the telltale signs of a wrongful conviction.”

She added, “You have a case that was cold. Then you have snitches involved wanting something in their case, and then the historical lack of understanding and appreciation of [disclosure requirements].”

Crosland’s case was reportedly built on lies and false statements by informants such as Rodney Everett. 

Everett was facing a parole violation when he struck a deal in exchange for information about multiple murder cases. Among the documents that investigators failed to disclose was a statement from Everett’s wife that he identified a different suspect in the Heo slaying. He also failed the lie detector test. 

Another informant, Delores Tilghman, also gave false information in the case. Both Everett and Tilghman claim they were coerced into falsifying statements used in court to convict Crosland. 

“It was just very brutal. They threaten you. They will use your family and they will tell you what they will do to your family, taking your kids,” said Everett. “When you tell the truth, they don’t care. They’ll accept the lies, but they won’t accept the truth.”

Tilghman said detectives threatened to arrest her if she didn’t testify, and she tried to recant her statement.

“It was him or me,” she said. “They were threatening me with putting me in jail. … They can make that happen. I seen them make his life disappear with one witness.”

Crosland was found guilty of murder despite three eyewitnesses to the robbery who said he was not the killer. Everett refused to testify by invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. However, his initial statement to police was still used in court to convict Crosland.

Curtis Crosland thegrio.com
Curtis Crosland was cleared of murder after 34 years (Credit: screenshot)

While in prison, Crosland filed four federal habeas petitions. He was finally cleared by evidence that was uncovered in Philadelphia police and prosecutors’ files.

“The exculpatory information was technically in the hands of prosecutors,” Cummings said, and should have been provided.

Crosland, who represented himself for decades, said the discovery of the hidden prosecutors’ files “made me very emotional. It was mind-blowing that all that could be hidden to convict an innocent man. It was painful. It was difficult to even share with my family some of the things I learned that happened to me.”

Crosland is now home with his sons, Risheen Crosland, 36, and Curtis Jr., 40.

“I was told when I was 16 that he would always belong to the state of Pennsylvania,” Risheen Crosland said. “I tried everything I could to get my father out. Then when nothing else worked, it seemed like God just showed me what he could really do.”

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