Hassan Bennett, Representing Himself, Acquitted of Murder After 13 Years in Prison
|thenorthstar||May 14, 2019|
For nearly 13 years, as he sat in prison, Hassan Bennett insisted that he was innocent of the September 2006 murder of one man and shooting of another in West Philadelphia. After four trials, Bennett was acquitted and set free. It has been a long road to freedom for Bennett, who was accused of fatally shooting his friend, 19-year-old Devon English, and wounding 18-year-old Corey Ford. Bennett maintained that he was on the phone with a friend at home when he heard shots, and ran to the scene of the crime. Lamont Dade, 16, was also arrested in the shooting, the Washington Post reported.
Dade and Ford both identified Bennett as the shooter during their initial statements to police. Both recanted during trials and claimed that Philadelphia homicide Detective James Pitts coerced them into accusing Bennett. Bennett’s first trial ended in a mistrial, he was found guilty in the second and was sentenced to life without parole; the guilty verdict was overturned on appeal. Against all legal advice, Bennett provided his own legal defense during his third trial in September 2018.
“They told me, if you mess up here, your tail is done,” Bennett told the Washington Post. “Well, I’m not gonna mess up then. There is no room for error. This is the time you rely on yourself.” The 36-year-old decided to rigorously study the legal system, teaching himself to write in legalese with the help of his cellmate, nicknamed “Brother Mook.” The third trial ended in a hung jury, with just one juror finding Bennett guilty. That did not discourage Bennett.
In April, Bennett again represented himself in his fourth and final trial. This time, Bennett opted to wear his prison uniform each day in court. He submitted his phone records, called three witnesses to corroborate his alibi, and cross-examined Ford and Dade.
He also called Pitts to the stand, who he accused of coercing statements from Ford and Dade. Bennett noted that prosecutors did not call Pitts, who has been placed on desk duty, to testify.
After deliberating for 81 minutes, a 12-member jury made up of seven women and five men acquitted Bennett of all counts on May 6. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, an elated Bennett hugged Ben Cooper, his standby attorney when the verdict was handed down. He was released from the Criminal Justice Center several hours later still wearing his prison uniform.
“I feel the whole process of changing clothes and hiding your armband is all a sham, because everyone knows you’re locked up,” Bennett told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I’m going to give you the bold truth. That’s what I did." The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office told The North Star that it did not have any comment, “beyond saying that while we disagree with the jury’s verdict we respect their decision and thank them for their service.”
Bennett is not the only person to be acquitted after accusing Detective Pitts of coercing statements from witnesses. In March, 35-year-old Dwayne Thorpe was acquitted of a 2008 murder after serving 10 years of a life sentence without parole, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
In 2013, Nafis Pinkney was found not guilty of committing a double murder. Pinkney, who was also arrested by Pitts, was awarded $750,000 in an out-of-court settlement with the city of Philadelphia in 2017.
Bennett has accepted a job offer from Cooper to do investigative work similar to that of a paralegal. He told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he wants to do motivational speaking and perhaps go to law school to help people in his community.
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.