Over the phone, Leroy Evans Jr. sounded upbeat. His voice gave no indication that for the last 37 years he has been imprisoned for a murder in which he insists he had no part.
“I’m very hopeful,” Evans said. “But it’s been such a long road.”
Evans, 60, of Chester, called Tuesday from Chester County Prison, where he awaits a hearing later this month at which his attorney, Michael Malloy, will request the testing of DNA evidence he said could exonerate his client.
During the call, Evans spoke not only to a reporter but also to more than a dozen family, friends, and supporters gathered outside Chester City Hall to drum up support for reopening the case of the 1980 murder of Emily Leo.
“It is a blessing,” Evans said. “I thank God for everyone” spreading the word about his story.
Evans’ 83-year-old mother, Alice Evans, held a piece of white poster board, which bore an American flag image and three words: “Free Leroy Evans.”
“He always said he’s known that he’s innocent,” Alice Evans said, “and he always said God knows that he is innocent.”
Her son exhausted all his appeals last year. Even Malloy, who has worked on the case for about a year and a half, acknowledges that the Nov. 21 hearing could likely be Leroy Evans’ last hope.
The Delaware County District Attorney’s Office said Monday it would not have enough time to review the case file and make a statement by Tuesday. But, in the past, it has maintained that Evans is guilty of the crime.
In private, Malloy said, Evans has said he has made peace with the fact he will most likely die in prison and harbors no resentment toward his co-defendant, Anthony Tyrone Jones, whose testimony put Evans behind bars.
“Over time, the case began to become more complicated,” Malloy said. “There were problems with the evidence. There were problems with the testimony.”
Last year, Jones provided Malloy with a 73-page sworn statement in which Jones said he alone committed the crime. Jones told Malloy he implicated Evans to spare himself the death penalty.
Leo, a part-time sales representative for Avon cosmetics, went to Jones’ home in Chester on Nov. 11, 1980, according to court documents.
Authorities said Evans and Jones lured her there to rob her and in doing so, choked her with a clothesline, beat her with an iron, and took her to a nearby lot. She died a week later from severe head trauma and blood loss.
Evans later admitted burning some of Jones’ bloody clothes but denied taking part in the murder. Jones, who was 17 at the time, testified otherwise.
But in the 2016 statement, Jones recanted, saying he lured Leo to his home by himself.
Evans’ family and friends said they could never imagine him being violent.
“He was the savior of the block when we were growing up,” said childhood neighbor Pearl Moses, 53, of Chester. “He made sure we didn’t get into trouble.”
He once ran into a burning house to save those inside, including one of his sisters, Moses added.
Several women affiliated with local religious orders also were present Tuesday. They said they were moved by Evans’ ability to forgive.
Sister Sheila Galligan, an Immaculate Heart of Mary nun who teaches at Immaculata University, said she first heard of Evans’ story when Malloy spoke to one of her classes. She has followed it ever since and even visited Evans in prison.
Galligan beamed as she talked on the phone with him Tuesday.
“I got to meet your mother,” she exclaimed, before promising to visit again soon.
“He is a unique guy,” Malloy said. “I don’t think he’s got an angry bone in his body despite what happened to him.”
“It’s a long time coming, but the truth has finally been revealed in Jones’ statement,” Malloy said. “We really need somebody to take a look at the case.”