Judge denies N. Philly man new trial in attempted-murder shooting of 6-year-old boy

A judge Monday denied a new trial for a 29-year-old North Philadelphia man who was convicted of attempted murder and related offenses in a high-profile 2006 Strawberry Mansion shooting that paralyzed a 6-year-old boy.

Common Pleas Judge Rayford Means told Donte Rollins' lawyers they have 30 days to appeal and said he would issue his opinion at that time.

Despite a request by Marissa Boyers Bluestine, legal director of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, for Means to say why he was denying Rollins a new trial, Means said the matter was concluded, then walked off the bench.

The District Attorney's Office in April agreed with Rollins' defense that Rollins deserves a new trial.

Rollins was not in the courtroom Monday having requested to not be there after the judge on Oct. 24 again delayed a decision on a new trial.

On Jan. 28, 2006, Rollins, then 18, and three other men were arrested in a shooting in which Jabar Wright was shot in the back of his head while in the back of a car driven by his grandfather on Westmont Street near 29th.

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 at the time of the shooting.

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: witnesses who said they were with Rollins, cellphone records, store receipts and further store video that had not been shown at the trial.

After the judge's ruling, Bluestine said an appeal would be filed immediately to the state Superior Court on Rollins' behalf.

"We're very disappointed," Wiseman said. "His decision is absolutely, positively incorrect."

Jabar's grandfather, Benjamin Wright, was the alleged target of the shooting. Key to the men's convictions was the identifications by Benjamin's then-wife, LaRhonda, who was in the car, who said she saw the defendants on the corner just before shots were fired at the car at about 7:40 p.m.

Benjamin Wright, 52, who was in court for the judge's ruling, said he finds "no joy" in the decision and sympathizes with Rollins and Rollins' mother, whom he knows. He did not see who was shooting, but said he believed LaRhonda's testimony that she saw Rollins there.

Alicia Wright, Jabar's mother, who was not in the car, said: "I'm elated with the decision." She said there "has never been a doubt in my mind" that Rollins was one of the men on the corner.

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