After 25 years on death row for a crime he did not commit, on May 13, 2017, James Dennis finally became a free man! Now he needs your help to build a new life for himself and his family as he tries to get on his feet.
WHY JIMMY NEEDS YOUR HELP
For 25 years Jimmy Dennis sat on death row, wrongfully convicted of murder. Two federal courts and 10 judges finally decided to vacate that conviction based on the wrongful conduct of prosecutors, detectives, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. But Pennsylvania has no statute compensating the wrongfully convicted. It offered Mr. Dennis no settlement after his legal victory. In fact, it was prepared to fight him to the bitter end. Jimmy has finally gotten back his freedom, but he's starting from nothing and needs your help to get back on his feet. Please give whatever you can - he needs everything - clothes, shoes, even basic groceries. Let's pick up as a community where the legal system left off. You can read more about his case and legal journey below.
Jimmy Dennis was just 21 years old when he was arrested for a horrific crime he did not commit.
On October 22, 1991, three men shot a high school girl in broad daylight at the Fern Rock Septa station in Philadelphia, while stealing her gold earrings. Even though the eyewitnesses consistently described the shooter as 5'10", 5'11", or taller, about 185 lbs, with a dark complexion, police ultimately arrested Jimmy, a 5'4" man, 125-135 lbs at the time, with a medium complexion and no significant criminal history. Ironically, guards on death row referred to Jimmy as "Shorty" during his time there. No physical evidence ever linked Jimmy to the crime - no DNA, no fingerprints, no weapon, no blood, no gunpowder residue, no stolen earrings.
Eyewitnesses who initially said they were not sure if Jimmy was the perpetrator later testified in court that they were positive it was him. Eyewitnesses who said it couldn't have been Jimmy were ignored by the DA and Jimmy's own lawyer, as were key alibi witnesses. Police mysteriously "lost" clothing they said matched the clothing of the perpetrator, before anyone could ever test it or even see if it belonged to Jimmy. The detectives testified a decade later that "cleaners" had mistakenly thrown away the evidence. Prosecutors then failed to turn over a key time-stamped document that would have verified Jimmy's alibi. They failed to turn over evidence that an eyewitness lied to them and actually recognized the perpetrator from her high school - a school Jimmy did not attend, but another suspect did. They failed to report an investigation into a group of three men with details that closely matched the crime, including one who knew the victim. They failed to even follow up on leads into the stolen earrings or the alibi of the other suspect, because they had already arrested Jimmy for the crime. Jimmy's lawyer spoke to none of the eyewitnesses. Woefully unprepared at trial, and armed with none of the suppressed evidence, he faced Philadelphia's most famous "death" prosecutor, who made improper arguments and told the jury to "stick a fork in him and turn him over, he's done." Jimmy was quickly sentenced to death.
After this nightmare of a trial, Jimmy endured decades of legal battles to prove his innocence. Throughout that process he faced years of delay by the government. In 2013, Judge Anita Brody, a federal district court judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, finally granted Jimmy the legal relief he long deserved, calling his wrongful conviction a "grave miscarriage of justice." Based on multiple pieces of suppressed evidence, she ordered Jimmy released or retried in 90 days. Nevertheless the government vigorously appealed her decision, attacking Judge Brody in the process. It argued, remarkably, that the government's decision to withhold evidence should be excused because Jimmy had a bad trial lawyer who should have found the hidden evidence on his own. After another 3 years of legal battles in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, an en banc panel (13 judges) heard these arguments and in a 9-4 decision, denied every one of them. The court reinstated Judge Brody's opinion in its entirety and granted Jimmy legal relief based on the importance of the withheld evidence.
During these 25 years, Jimmy lost his entire adult life. Before he was arrested Jimmy was a member of a singing group, Sensation, that was in the process of obtaining a music contract. (They even beat Boys II Men in a competition!) Instead, Jimmy was forced to rely on music to get him through the horrors of life on death row. Jimmy's daughter was still in the womb when he was arrested. Today, she has her own children, and Jimmy has never been able to hold her or them outside prison walls. Jimmy's father, a witness at his trial, died during Jimmy's legal battle, and never got to see Judge Brody's opinion, let alone watch his son finally walk out a free man.
Jimmy is now, at long last, home. On Saturday, May 13, 2017, he was released from prison and hopes to start a new life - his first as a free adult man, husband, father, grandfather, brother, and friend. He hopes to have the things we all take for granted - a decent place to live, his own clothing and shoes, and the ability to work to pay his bills. If all goes well, he may finally even be able to return to his music career.
But Jimmy's journey will be a long one, and he has nothing to start it. Pennsylvania has no fund to pay the wrongfully convicted. There is no settlement for his lost years of life. Jimmy has talked about spending his life helping others benefit from his experience as soon as he gets on his feet. So please, if you are as moved, angered, saddened, and simultaneously overjoyed as I am, consider donating some amount to help him.
The legal system often fails, and nothing can give Jimmy back the years that were stolen from him. But as a community, let's repair some of the damage and show him that freedom can still be beautiful.
NOTE: All funds will be placed in a trust established for the benefit of James Dennis. No portion of any funds will be used for the payment of legal fees or legal expenses, as they have been provided pro bono.
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