James Dennis Murder Conviction Overturned After 21 Years; Read the Judge’s Ruling Here

6ABC reports:

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.

UPI:

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.

Daily News:

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:

James Dennis Murder Conviction Overturned

Another Letter Seth Williams Doesn’t Want You to See

After I published excerpts from this anonymous anti-Seth Williams letter that was sent to employees of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office, I found out about another anti-Seth Williams letter. This one was sent to members of the Public Defender’s office.

To me it seems obvious that the letters share an author with a strange sense of humor as well as a peculiar fondness for early-’80s Who songs, and this second letter makes allegations similar to those in the first.

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The Letter Seth Williams Doesn’t Want His Employees to See [UPDATED]

Recently, sources inside the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office have been buzzing about a letter that was sent to many of the office’s employees by some anonymous person or group of people blasting D.A. Seth Williams with a bevy of allegations and poetic hyperbole.

That such a letter would be sent is not surprising, considering the level of unrest and low morale in the office over the last few years; one former prosecutor filed a federal discrimination suit against Williams just weeks ago. But getting a copy of this over-the-top missive was easier said than done.

The letters were addressed to the employees individually at the office’s 3 South Penn Square address. Once higher-ups inside the office got wind of this letter-bombing, plainclothes investigators and managers were dispatched to confiscate the unopened letters from employees’ mailboxes and directly from employees who had already retrieved them.

“It was crazy,” recalls one staff member of the tension in the office that day, suggesting that the letter had brought more chaos to an office that has already had its fair share of it. “People were talking about it all week. Although some people were afraid to admit that they had even seen it.”

But not all of the letters were confiscated.

A source who works in the D.A.’s office managed to get one of the letters out of the building and provided a copy to me for publication, under the condition that this source remain anonymous. I shared the content of the letter with another D.A. source, who had seen the original letter before it was confiscated; this second source confirms that this is the same letter.

I also sent the letter to Tasha Jamerson, Williams’s spokesperson, asking for comment on how the letter was handled within the office and the substance of its contents. Her entire reply: “These statements are untrue.”

The magazine’s lawyers won’t let me show you the entire letter, because some of the content is simply too hot to handle. Here’s what I can share, typos and all. (By way of explanation: the Ed McCann referred to in the letter is the first deputy assistant district attorney; the “McGettigan/Grady departures” refers to two high-level employees who left the office after messy disputes with their boss, the D.A.; and “Rufus” is the district attorney’s actual first name.)

The letter begins:

Dear DA’s Office Employee:

In August of 1945, the United States ended the war in the Pacific by dropping 2 atomic bombs on the Empire of Japan; the “Little Boy” was dropped on August 6th (Hiroshima) and the “Fat Man” on August 9th (Nagasaki), bringing Japan to its knees and the war to a close.

Over the past 3 years, the DA’s Office has been decimated by its own version of the fat man (Rufus Willams) and the little boy (Ed “Mr. Peabody” McCann). In the coming months, it is likely multiple investigations will reveal much of the sordid behavior that has gone on under this duo. The October Philly Magazine article was the tip of the iceberg, as all of you know.

To mention just a few, like the true story of the McGettigan/Grady departures (firings); or the source of money for many of the DA’s questionable hires, while he cries poor mouth to City Council; or allegedly using public money as if it was his own, much information will come to light. We hope all of you will have a chair when the music stops, so be forthright about what is going on under this administration. Speak to responsible media (“stop snitching” is for criminals, not suitable as an office press policy) and investigators in a candid manner.

No one knows better than all of you what the atmosphere has become under Rufus & Eddie. We thank those of you who have already cooperated (not necessarily those who received this mailing) and look forward to restoring your faith in the office.

The letter then goes on to attach a list of salaries of hundreds of the office’s employees, including the infamous “party planner” who makes more than $75,000. The author of the screed makes note of “political hires” as well as a large raise received by a “campaign contributor.”

He or she also makes some sexist personal attacks, suggesting that one female employee is paid “by the baby” and that one highly paid female employee “does need extra money for those shopping sprees at Macy’s.” There is also language like “special female pals of Rufus,” referring by name to two women in the office.

The letter concludes:

While some have speculated that Rufus has the money handling skills of Vince Fumo, the personal judgment of former NY Representative Anthony Weiner, and the same future as Kwame Kilpatrick (former Detroit mayor), only time will tell, but now the proper eyes are focused on the many problems of the administration.

So how does the Rufus/Ed regime end???? Imagine The Who’s “Eminence Front” being played while watching the ending of The Shawshank Redemption (when the warden and head guard realize the gig is up); when all the schemes and ill behavior come to light. Maybe Seth can be the mayor of his cell block?

Be proud of the work you do and keep your head up. The time for the precious few being taken care of is drawing to a close. The end of this fiasco is near.

Quite a letter. And maybe the DA’s spokesperson, Tasha Jamerson, is partially correct: Maybe some of the allegations are false. But it is hard to ignore the sense that the top law-and-order official in the city is presiding over an office in utter chaos.

Update [6/28 12:45 p.m.]: Yet another anonymous anti-Seth Williams letter has surfaced.

So Seth Williams Wasn’t Paying His Gas Bill Either

First Nutter, now D.A. Seth Williams. Who will be the next high-profile public official not to pay his or her gas bill? Given his proclivity for drilling, we’re hoping its Tom Corbett.

The blog Philadelinquency posted about the lien on Williams’ property yesterday. Court records show the city placed a lien on Williams’ Overbrook home April 14, 2012, and the outstanding bill – $578.73 – was satisfied a month later.

Williams, from the looks of this tweet, is not amused by the coverage.

[Daily News]

Seth Williams Convenes Grand Jury to Investigate Building Collapse

District Attorney Seth Williams announced today that a grand jury is being convened to investigate the Market Street building collapse that killed six and injured 13 last Wednesday. He said excavator operator Sean Benschop was charged with involuntary manslaughter because toxicology reports found the presence of drugs in his system, and that the purpose of the grand jury was to find out–without “rushing to judgment”–whether any others should be held criminally responsible. Federal officials will not be involved, he added.

DA Seth Williams: “Philadelphians Have No Shortage of Opinions” [UPDATED]

seth williams Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams is giving a press conference announcing that a grand jury will be convened to “investigate any and all aspects that they determine appropriate as they gather information….They may in fact issue a report.”

He also says:

“Philadelphians have no shortage of opinions on the people who should be held responsible. The role of the grand jury…is to determine if anyone in addition to Mr. Benschop should be held responsible. I know philadelphians demand action. I’ve heard voices loud and clear. Philadelphians demand action. But our office will not be a part of a rush to judgment. I ask for patience…in accordance with the law.”

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White Former ADA Sues Seth Williams for Racial Discrimination

MK Feeney was once an Assistant District Attorney in Philadelphia with a promising career. Hired in 1996 by then-District Attorney Lynne Abraham, Feeney successfully prosecuted numerous murderers including Kensington’s Christopher Kitcherman, who went to prison for cutting up his father and stashing the body parts in a freezer.

During her tenure, Feeney served in the Homicide, Major Trials and Juvenile units, but the veteran prosecutor lasted less than two years under the watch of District Attorney Seth Williams (pictured), who assumed the office in January 2010. Feeney, who is white, now says that she was the victim of racial discrimination at the hands of Williams, and she’s filed a discrimination lawsuit against him in Federal Court.

Back in June 2011, Feeney made headlines when she abruptly left her post just weeks after the similarly abrupt departure of First Assistant District Attorney Joseph McGettigan, who is also white. At the time, sources told the Daily News that Feeney was forced to resign after it was alleged that she had pulled up the juvenile record of a fellow prosecutor, who is black. Feeney says in court papers that she was fired and that while she had seen the report in question, she did not pull it up personally.

Since Feeney left the office, stories of racial tension in the office have become commonplace, with white staffers privately accusing Williams of giving black staffers preferential treatment; these are the allegations that turn up in Feeney’s suit, which names the District Attorney’s Office and Williams, both in his official capacity and individually.

Here are some of Feeney’s allegations, taken directly from her complaint filed in Federal Court:

“Defendants engaged in a policy, practice and custom to consider race in connection with employment decisions… and treat non-white employees more favorable than similarly situated white employees, including… disciplining white employees more harshly than non-white employees… promoting non-white employees into open positions over qualified white employees… removing qualified white employees and replacing them with non-white employees… waiving job requirements for non-white employees but not for similarly situated white employees.”

“Mr. Williams actively ignored the Hiring Committee’s scoring and ranking of candidates and hand-picked the individuals he wanted to receive job offers. the individuals Defendant Williams hand-picked were predominantly non-white. Mr. Williams made comments to the Hiring Committee that he wanted them to hire people who ‘look like Philadelphians’ meaning that Mr. Williams wanted them to hire individuals based on the racial demographics of the city.”

“Mr. Williams offered a black ADA a substantial raise in order to prevent her from leaving for another job, and told her that he needed people who look like her in front of his juries.”

“Defendants commissioned a large mural for the lobby of the DA’s office, in which all the individuals depicted are non-white.”

Feeney alleges that Williams “hand-picked and hired almost exclusively non-white individuals for his support staff and has provided some of these individuals with salaries that exceed the ADAs’ salaries.” The suit goes on to list some of those positions and the races/ethnicities and salaries of the people filling them.

Regarding her departure from the D.A.’s office, Feeney maintains in the suit that she did nothing wrong. She adds that a black member of the staff who was aware of the juvenile record of their mutual colleague and who went to the press about it was not fired. Williams and the two black colleagues, she states in the suit, “are all members of the same fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, a fraternity for African American males.”

Although court records indicate that Williams was served with the suit last Friday, spokesperson Tasha Jamerson declined to comment, saying, “This office was just notified about this lawsuit and we are currently reviewing it.”

[PHOTO: AP/Matt Rourke]

If You Fake A SEPTA Injury, Seth Williams Will Hunt You Down

Be on notice: If you try to make money by faking an injury on SEPTA, D.A. Seth Williams will hunt you down. The Pennsylvania Record reports that 10 people were arrested for insurance fraud last month for making such claims, up from four in all of January and February.

The latest? 46-year-old Sai Min Wang, who has been  charged with insurance fraud, attempted theft by deception, and theft by deception stemming from a 2011 incident in which she claimed to be injured in a bus-on-taxi incident—telling her attorney she’d struck her head on an iron bar in the bus during the collision.

Surveillance video from cameras mounted inside the SEPTA bus at the time showed that no passenger appeared to be injured or disturbed during the incident, the prosecutor’s office announced.

Furthermore, Wang, who had claimed she was asleep at the time, was caught on video speaking on her cellphone and facing forward at the time the bus made contact with the parked taxi cab.

“Wang never hits her head on a seat, pole or metal bar and continues her phone conversation for approximately three minutes,” the D.A.’s news release states. “The video evidence contradicts Wang’s account of the incident and her claims against both SEPTA and Progressive [Insurance].”

Remember, folks: When you’re on a SEPTA facility, somebody is watching you.

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