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Pennsylvania Man Free After 37 Years Due to False Testimony

A Philadelphia man was freed from prison Tuesday after 37 years in a case marred by detectives who allegedly offered a witness sex and drugs at police headquarters in 1983 in exchange for false testimony, the Associated Press reports. The trial witness was charged with perjury days after Willie Stokes, 61, was convicted of murder in 1984. Stokes didn’t learn about that perjury plea until 2015, decades into a life sentence. Both detectives who allegedly offered witness Franklin Lee a sex-for-lies deal to help them close a 1980 murder case are now deceased. Lee was in custody on unrelated rape and murder charges at the time, and said he was also promised a light sentence. “I fell weak and went along with the offer,” Lee told a federal judge in November, recalling his testimony at a 1984 preliminary hearing when he claimed Stokes, a neighborhood friend, had confessed to killing a man during a dice game.

Lee recanted the story at Stokes’ murder trial in 1984, but Stokes was convicted and sent to prison for life. Days later, Philadelphia prosecutors charged Lee with perjury — not over his trial testimony, but over the initial testimony he’d given at the preliminary hearing. “The homicide prosecutors that used Franklin Lee’s testimony to convict Willie Stokes then prosecuted Franklin Lee for lying on Willie Stokes. And they never told Willie Stokes,” his lawyer in the November hearing. The U.S. magistrate who heard the appeal called the omission an “egregious violation of (Stokes’) constitutional rights.” A U.S. district judge agreed, overturning the conviction last week. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, whose office has championed about two dozen exoneration cases, supports Stokes but has not yet formally decided whether to retry him. That decision should come before a scheduled Jan. 26 hearing in state court.


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