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Jury overturns 1995 murder conviction, frees defendant

The conviction of a Pittsburgh man on charges that he shot and killed a woman in 1994 was based on the false testimony of a prosecution witness, jurors in the defendant's retrial ruled on Sep. 12. The not guilty verdict means the man will soon be freed from prison for the first time in 17 years.

"Justice has been served," the defendant's wife said. "Justice prevailed today."

The defendant was charged with two other men in connection with the shooting death of a woman from the Hazelwood neighborhood in July 1994. Prosecutors claimed that the defendant had previously beaten her to prevent her from testifying about a shooting involving a friend of his. But the victim was going to testify anyway, so the defendant killed her, as the prosecution's theory went. For his part, the defendant said he was not involved in the shooting.

Much of the prosecutors' case relied on the testimony of a woman who said she witnessed the defendant commit the murder. But the credibility of the woman, whose claims came to light after she was arrested for shoplifting, was later refuted by another man, who said that the witness was nowhere near the scene at the time of the shooting.

But before that witness was discovered, the jury in the original trial convicted the defendant of first-degree murder and sentenced him to life in prison. His chances of overturning the conviction seemed remote until 2003, when the Innocence Institute, a student-run organization at Park Point University, took up the case. They got him the right to a new trial in 2008, which led to this month's retrial.

The defendant is scheduled to be released by Sep. 15, to the relief of his family, which stood by him throughout his wrongful incarceration.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "After 18 years in prison, defendant goes free," Paula Reed Ward, Sep. 13, 2012

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