Pa. Innocence Project hearing delayed

The tortuous case of Eugene Gilyard and Lance Felder – serving life sentences for the 1995 murder of a North Philadelphia businessman – took another twist Monday when a Philadelphia judge agreed to postpone a final hearing date to Sept. 6 to let city prosecutors finish listening to tapes of prison phone calls by Ricky “Rolex” Welborn and others.

Gilyard and Felder, both 34, have been fighting a post-conviction appeal in which they say Welborn was one of the two gunmen who shot and killed Thomas Keal, 52, in the early morning hours of Aug. 31, 1995.

Welborn, 34, serving a life sentence for an unrelated murder, has made a signed confession to killing Keal and exonerating Gilyard and Felder. The pair – supported by other witnesses to the shooting – say they were told to keep quiet by Felder’s brother, Robert, 38, then a North Philadelphia drug dealer, because Robert Felder drove the getaway care for Welborn and the other gunmen after the botched robbery.

On July 25, the last day of testimony in the appeal, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Rose Marie DeFino-Nastasi set Monday for oral argument and a possible decision. But when the moment arrived, the judge reluctantly agreed to continue the case to Sept. 6 after Assistant District Attorneys Laurie Williamson and Robin Godfrey said they needed more time to finish listening to hours of tape telephone calls by Welborn and others in prison that might support their theory that Welborn made a bogus confession as a favor to other inmates.

All prison phone calls by inmates are recorded and Williamson said she is looking for evidence that Welborn’s confession to investigators for the Pennsylvania Innocence Project coincided with a $500 deposit made to Welborn’s inmate account by a woman identified only as “Erica.”

DeFino-Nastasi did not seem impressed: “That’s not very much money to admit to murder.” Still the judge agreed to continue the final hearing until Sept. 6 – but no later. She ordered Williamson and Godfrey to advise her, Gilyard attorney David Rudovsky and Felder attorney Jules Epstein, by Aug. 28 if she has found new evidence supporting her case.