For Jimmy Shorty-Dennis, freedom, even from the bowels of death row, had a taste somewhat bittersweet. He’s free, yes, for the first time in 26 years, from the dark funk of Pennsylvania’s capital case unit, L-block, in Green county, some 60 miles from Pittsburgh, but even freedom had its price.
In 1991, Shorty was convicted and sentenced to death for the killing of Sha’Del Williams, a tall, lovely high school girl in West Oak Lane, a neighborhood of Philadelphia. Here’s the problem: Shorty wasn’t there. And two judicial opinions before the Federal District Court and the Third Circuit U.S. Appeals Court, judges found that Shorty was, more likely than not, innocent of the crime and both courts reversed his convictions and ordered a new trial.
They did this in part because they found prosecutors misled a witness as to the time she saw Jimmy on a bus miles away from the crime scene. This witness, who, like most people, didn’t understand military time, testified that she saw Jimmy on a bus hours after she actually saw him. This, despite the fact that she had a receipt from the welfare office showing the correct time. What happened to the receipt?
Well, she gave it to two detectives and they “lost” this evidence. But Shorty’s free after taking what’s called an Alford plea: the state keeps its conviction on the books, and Jimmy Shorty-Dennis gets to go home to his mother, his daughters, and his fiance. Freedom comes at a price.
From imprisoned nation, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.
These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.