A federal judge has overturned the conviction of a man who’s been on death row for the past 21 years, finding that his conviction in the death of a teenager killed over her earrings was based on “scant evidence at best.”
That conviction was dismissed late Wednesday by a federal judge in a scathing ruling, but not before James Dennis had served two decades on death row.
“When I first heard it, I couldn’t believe it. When the lawyer called, I was on my feet. I was dancing. I was giving God the praise, because this is something we have been praying for from day one,” said Dennis’ mother, Juanita Dennis.
Chedell Ray Williams, 17, a student at Olney High School, was killed in October 1991 by two men who demanded her $450 earrings. Dennis was the only person ever charged with the crime.
The weapon used in the shooting and the earrings were never recovered and police found no forensic evidence against Dennis. His conviction was based on testimony from three eyewitnesses, although other witnesses had said the shooter was taller and weighed more.
Brody in her 40-page opinion said police never told the defense about evidence that might have led in other directions. As one example, a girl who was with Williams told relatives she recognized the killers from school and knew their nicknames.
The victim’s mother, Barbara Williams, was disturbed upon hearing the news in the case from a Daily News reporter. “I’m really disappointed about that with all that’s going on with so many kids that are getting shot the same way my daughter was,” she said.
District Attorney Seth Williams said in a statement that he was disappointed with the decision, saying Dennis’ lawyers presented “slanted factual allegations.” Williams said his office will consider whether to retry Dennis.
You can read the judge’s entire ruling here: