More witnesses in case of man convicted in '06 shooting that paralyzed boy

A judge Monday heard more testimony to determine whether a now-29-year-old man deserves a new trial in a high-profile 2006 Strawberry Mansion shooting that paralyzed a 6-year-old boy.

Common Pleas Judge Rayford Means said he would announce his decision on Donte Rollins' case Nov. 14.

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Donte Rollins

Rollins and three other men were arrested in the Jan. 28, 2006, shooting in which Jabar Wright was shot in the back of his head while riding in the back of a car on Westmont Street near 29th.

Jabar's grandfather, Benjamin Wright, then 40, who was driving the car, was believed to have been the intended target.

During a 2007 trial, a jury convicted Rollins, then 20; his cousin Raheem Collins, 26; and a third man, Chris Powell, 19, of attempted murder and related offenses. A fourth man, Kevin Norris, 28, was acquitted.

Means in 2008 sentenced the three men to the maximum sentences allowable: 62 ½ to 125 years in state prison.

Rollins has maintained he was not at the shooting scene but at the Gallery mall in Center City, and then on South Street.

During Post Conviction Relief Act hearings earlier this year, Rollins' new attorneys - Michael Wiseman and lawyers with the Pennsylvania Innocence Project - presented further evidence that bolsters Rollins' alibi.

After hearing and seeing the additional evidence, the District Attorney's Office in April agreed that Rollins deserves a new trial and that his trial attorney, Nino Tinari, was ineffective for not presenting the additional evidence.

Means on Monday said he had not ruled on the case because he needed to hear from more witnesses. He subpoenaed the trial prosecutor, Deborah Cooper Nixon, and the lead police detective, Jim Rago, to come testify Monday.

Nixon, who left the DA's Office in August and now works at the law firm of Fellheimer & Eichen, recalled that Tinari had provided a video in which he alleged that Rollins was in a South Street store sometime after the shooting, at a time when it would have been implausible for Rollins to have also been at the shooting scene.

But she said she did not have the information needed to determine the video's authenticity. Key to the men's convictions was the identifications by Benjamin's then-wife, LaRhonda, who was also in the car. She testified that the defendants were on the Strawberry Mansion corner before the shooting.

Wiseman, in a February 2013 petition to the judge, provided statements from two people - Shelton Fortune and Howard Porter - who said they were with Rollins at the Gallery and on South Street up until 8 p.m. that day. A third man who was also allegedly with them, Paris Grant, has since died, but Rollins' mother, Ava Rollins, has said in a statement that Grant had told her that her son was with them.

Rollins' new defense team has also indicated there was other evidence - cellphone records, store receipts, other video - that bolster Rollins' alibi.

Nixon, asked by Marissa Boyers Bluestine, legal director at the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, if Tinari had told her of any of Rollins' alibi witnesses, said she couldn't recall.

Rago, who now works at Temple University's police department, testified he couldn't recall being given any names of alibi witnesses for Rollins and didn't recall being given any cellphone records to review. He recalled being given a video from the Net store at Fifth and South Streets.

The defense contended the video showed Rollins entering the store at 8 p.m. The shooting - four miles away - occurred at 7:42 p.m. The prosecution at the trial contended Rollins could not have been the man seen in the video.

Jabar's mother, Alicia Wright, and his grandfather, Benjamin Wright, were in court Monday and told the judge they wanted to address the courtroom.

Taking the witness stand separately, they asked people to be mindful of the victim in this case - Jabar, who is now 16. They thanked the judge for not rushing to judgment.

Crying, Alicia Wright looked at Rollins, who sat at the defense table, and yelled out: "You shot him and you want a different trial because this didn't work for you?"

Rollins did not react, but when the judge said he needed until Nov. 14 to first obtain the transcript of Monday's hearing, and to review the case, Rollins shook his head.

shawj@phillynews.com

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