Philly man claiming innocence moves a step closer to vindication

Dontia Patterson has spent 11 years in prison for a murder he insists he didn’t commit.

On Friday, he moved a step closer to vindication.

During a brief hearing at the Criminal Justice Center, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office vacated Patterson’s conviction and his life sentence, agreeing that his trial lawyers were ineffective and that he deserved to be retried.

Prosecutors stopped short, however, of dropping the charges against Patterson, and he remains in custody as an accused murderer. He is due back in court in March to begin the process of preparing again to potentially face a jury.

His appellate attorneys, led by Center City lawyer Hayes Hunt, are hoping for a quicker resolution.

Hunt said he and his colleagues, including the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, have been working with the District Attorney’s Office over several months and have been shown previously undisclosed information supporting Patterson’s innocence claims, including documents identifying another possible suspect and a different potential motive for the killing.

Hunt said he was grateful for the cooperation shown by prosecutors — but hoped new District Attorney Larry Krasner, who has pledged sweeping reform to the criminal justice system, would direct his office to let Patterson become a free man.

Vacating the conviction, Hayes said, “is a minimum. It’s wrong to continue” with prosecution.

Ben Waxman, Krasner’s spokesman, said prosecutors would continue reviewing Patterson’s claims of innocence before deciding whether to dismiss the charges.

“This is a first-degree murder case, so we’re going to do our due diligence and make sure we come to the right conclusion,” Waxman said.

Patterson, 28, was arrested in 2007 and charged with fatally shooting his friend Antwine Jackson on the 800 block of Granite Street, in Crescentville, according to court documents. Two eyewitnesses identified him as the shooter, the documents say.

Patterson’s first trial in 2008 ended in a hung jury. He was convicted at a second trial in 2009.

His appellate attorneys, citing expert witnesses, wrote in their appeal that the eyewitnesses could not have identified the shooter because they were standing too far away. They also wrote that Patterson was at home when the shooting occurred and visited the scene only after learning his friend had been shot. And they argued that Patterson’s defense attorney, Lee Mandell, did not sufficiently pursue leads that could have helped Patterson’s defense.

Attempts to reach Mandell for comment Friday were unsuccessful.

Patterson remained in prison at the State Correctional Institution-Chester, but will be moved to a Philadelphia facility while awaiting a potential trial.

His attorneys were planning to file a motion for him to be released on bail — something Judge Steven R. Geroff denied Friday, because Patterson remained charged with first-degree murder.