Man released from prison after 37 years due to false testimony
Franklin Lee, who gave a false statement to police, apologized to Willie Stokes during a November 2021 hearing
Thirty-seven years after being sentenced to prison for murder, a Philadelphia man was released after a federal court found that prosecutors in his case had suppressed evidence of false testimony by a key witness.
According to The Washington Post, Willie Stokes’ conviction was vacated after it was revealed that the witness, Franklin Lee, had said that he gave a false statement to Philadelphia police in exchange for “sex, drugs, and a deal,” per PEOPLE.
Lee was facing his own murder and rape charges in 1984 when he was offered a short sentence in exchange for his testimony. “They said I wouldn’t do no more than two to five, the most seven years,” he said.
The man’s testimony was the only thing that linked Stokes to the 1984 murder of Leslie Campbell in North Philadelphia. During the trial, the man recanted his story in which he said that Stokes had admitted to killing Campbell. Prosecutors said that when he took back his statement, he was not credible.
Stokes was convicted of first-degree murder and possession of an instrument of crime, and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on August 21, 1984. Lee was later charged with perjury, though Stokes was not aware of this fact until 2015.
During a November 2021 hearing, Lee testified for Stokes and told Michael Diamondstein, Stokes’ attorney, that Stokes never told him he killed anyone, according to the Post.
The man also apologized to Stokes, saying, “I’d like to for the record, if I can, apologize to Mr. Stokes and the family for the problem I caused, sincerely.”
According to the report, Stokes did not reply in court, but he cried. “Let the record reflect he’s crying,” Judge Carol Sandra Moore Wells, the district court judge, pointed out. “I’m going to take his tears to indicate he’s accepting the apology.”
Diamondstein said that when his client was released and “took his first free breaths this afternoon after almost 40 years,” he was “very happy and humbled.” He added that his client wanted to “get a corned beef hoagie.”
“What happened here was an abomination,” Diamondstein said. “For too many years, law enforcement in Philadelphia have treated Black and Brown people like they are expendable and this case is a stark reminder it has to stop.”
The two detectives in the case have faced various allegations over the years for their use of “coercive methods,” according to court documents.
“Today is a tremendous day. We’re all very thankful,” Diamondstein told KMVT. “However, it’s also a sad day, because it reminds us of how lawless, unfair, and unjust Philadelphia law enforcement was for so long.”
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