Pennsylvania Man Freed After Witness' Confession Exonerates Him

A Black man who spent 21 years in prison for murder was freed after a key witness in the case confessed to the crime.

John Miller, 44, was released from the State Correctional Institution in Frackville, Pennsylvania on July 31 after prosecutors said there was insufficient evidence to retry him, CNN reported.

“I’m very happy and excited that after 21 years I’m finally being heard and that my innocence has reached the surface,” Miller said in a statement. “I’m going home to my family. I’m overwhelmed, excited, and happy. I have a good team who helped me through this. Without them, I don’t know what would have happened or where I would have been.”

In 1997, Miller was convicted of fatally shooting Anthony Mullen during a robbery attempt in 1996 outside of 30th Street Station, Philadelphia’s main railroad hub, according to court documents obtained by CNN. Miller, who was in his early 20s when he was arrested, was charged with second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison.

David Williams was the key witness who testified that he saw Miller kill Mullen. Court records reportedly show that Williams told police at the time, in exchange for leniency in another case, that Miller had confessed to him about killing Mullen. Williams confessed multiple times to the murder over the years and apologized to Miller’s mother, WCAU reported.

“I can’t live with this on my conscience,” Williams wrote in a 2002 letter to Miller’s mother. “Your son had no knowledge of this crime. He wasn’t even there.”

For 13 years, Miller filed appeals in his case, which were repeatedly denied, according to his attorney, Thomas Gallagher. Gallagher, a lawyer at Pepper Hamilton LLP and the Pennsylvania Innocence Project (PAIP), took on Miller’s case eight years ago. His team found evidence that was not disclosed to Miller’s defense team and that raised questions about Williams’ initial testimony, according to a news release.

On July 1, a judge ordered Miller to be released and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office decided there was “insufficient evidence” to make a case against Miller. Gallagher said he was “thrilled” over the decision and that Miller’s conviction was overturned.

“The entire team at Pepper Hamilton is thrilled for both John and his family,” said Gallagher in a statement. “To see John walk out of prison as a free man today is an almost indescribable feeling. It has been an honor to represent John and a pleasure to partner with the PAIP over the past eight years to secure his freedom.”

Earlier this month, the Philadelphia prosecutor’s office released another Black man who was “likely innocent” after he was convicted of murder and sentenced to serve life in prison. Chester Hollman III, 48, walked out of state prison Luzerne County a free man on July 15, The Philadelphia Inquirer previously reported.

In 1991, Hollman was convicted of murdering University of Pennsylvania student Tae-Jung Ho in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square in 1991, according to WCAU. Assistant District Attorney Patricia Cummings accused the former prosecutors and officers involved in the 28-year-old case of suppressing evidence that pointed to other suspects in the murder.

“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 like they’re constitutionally and ethically required to do… Mr. Hollman might not have ever even stood trial,” Cummings said during a news conference, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

An eyewitness came forward in 2012 and claimed that she gave false testimony, alleging that police had pressured her to say Hollman committed the murder. He was 20-years-old at the time of his arrest for a crime he did not commit. In 2017, The Philadelphia Inquirer’s report on false testimony in criminal cases drew attention to Hollman’s case. On June 24, District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office reportedly informed the court that “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.

The day he was released from prison, Hollman called the day “surreal,” The Philadelphia Inquirer previously reported.

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

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.