Judge Overturns Life Sentence for Philadelphia Man After Nearly 28 Years

The Philadelphia prosecutor’s office released a Black man sentenced to life in prison for murder after deciding he was “likely innocent.”

Chester Hollman III, 48, was freed from state prison in Luzerne County by Common Pleas Court Judge Gwendolyn Bright on July 15, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The formal dismissal of the charges against the 48-year-old will be confirmed later this month.

Hollman was convicted for a murder in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square in 1991, WCAU reported. Assistant District Attorney Patricia Cummings accused the former officers and prosecutors of Hollman’s case of hiding evidence that pointed to other suspects in the murder of University of Pennsylvania student Tae-Jung Ho in August 1991, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. During a news conference after Hollman’s release, Cummings called out the officers for suppressing the evidence.

“It was pretty clear to us that unfortunately the Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office actually had evidence in their possession back at the time of trial [that], had they disclosed it to the defense that they’re constitutionally and ethically required to do… Mr. Hollman might not have ever even stood trial,” Cummings said. An eyewitness testified in 2012 that she gave false testimony and alleged the police pressured her to say Hollman committed the crime, WCAU reported. In April 2017, a report from The Philadelphia Inquirer about people lying in the justice system drew attention to Hollman’s case. A podcast called Undisclosed discussed Hollman’s arrest and ignited more questions about his case.

Hollman was 20-years-old when he was arrested for a crime he did not commit and had no criminal record, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“It’s so surreal,” Hollman said the day he was freed while standing outside the correctional facility, according to the publication. “I’m just happy and thankful and looking forward to starting the rest of my life.”

District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office reportedly told the court on June 24 “that Hollman was likely innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted and asked the court to vacate his conviction and sentences,” according to WCAU.

Hollman’s attorney Alan Tauber told The Philadelphia Inquirer that it was a “glorious day,” on the day the 48-year-old was freed from prison.

“We have a flawed system and innocent people do go to jail. But we have a great system, because there is a means for correcting that,” Tauber said. In May, it was announced that a man from Michigan who was wrongly convicted of murder would receive $1.5 million from the state. The Michigan Attorney General’s office said in a statement that Richard Phillips, 73, would receive money after he was exonerated of murder in 2018, CNN previously reported. Phillips is the longest-serving incarcerated person to be cleared in the US. “Conceding that no system is perfect, the government’s public recognition and overturning of the convictions of these men helps to foster a healing process and assures Michiganders that the government — regardless of fault — will take ownership of its errors,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a previous statement. “Reentering society is profoundly difficult for wrongfully convicted individuals and we have an obligation to provide compassionate compensation to these men for the harm they suffered. I’m proud our office was able to play a part in ensuring justice was served.”

Phillips was convicted of fatally shooting Gregory Harris in 1972. Harris’s brother-in-law reportedly told authorities that during the time of the murder, he had met Phillips at a bar to discuss the murder. A man named Richard Polombo admitted in 2010 that he was the one who killed Harris, CNN reported.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy said in a statement that Phillip’s life prison sentence “was based almost entirely on the false testimony of the main witness in the case.

“This is great news, and was absolutely the right thing to do,” Worthy said in the statement. “I remain thankful that in 2018 we were able to bring some justice to Mr. Phillips. While this compensation will not bring back the 45 years that he unjustly served in prison, it is my sincere hope that it will bring a well-deserved and fulfilling quality of life to him.”

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.