By Esha Kher
PHILADELPHIA, PA – Five years after doubts began circulating in the news media about a lack of evidence and integrity in the conviction of Larry Walker, the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas granted post-conviction release and ordered a new trial on the 3rd degree murder conviction.
Walker has been serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) for nearly four decades. He was the sole suspect who was arrested, prosecuted, and convicted of shooting Clyde Coleman at his home on May 2, 1983.
The jury found Walker guilty based on the eyewitness testimony of two neighbors, one of whom was a juvenile at the time and who testified to seeing three men fleeing the scene and said one of them was covered in Coleman’s blood.
Following these testimonies, “there [wasn’t] any evidence indicating the identity of the two other individuals seen fleeing the scene, or their possible relationship to Walker,” said the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.
“(N)o other evidence, including forensic evidence or a firearm, tying Walker to the murder was recovered by homicide investigators or used at trial,” said the office. “Walker’s admitted sexual relationship with Mr. Coleman was used at trial by the District Attorney’s Office (DAO).”
The integrity of the conviction based on the weak investigation and evidence was called into question in media reports and letters circulating around 2012 through 2016.
In letters sent to the DAO’s then-Conviction Review Unit in 2012 and 2015, the original trial prosecutor stated that he had doubt over the conviction in Commonwealth v. Larry Walker.
“It was the thinnest homicide case I tried while I was in office, and it is the only homicide case that I tried in which I had a doubt regarding the guilt of the accused.”
Walker’s case was also featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer investigative reporting series “Justice on Hold” in 2016 as one of many cases that was worthy of reconsideration, since it was covered up by the Convictions Review unit by the prior DA.
“[The case is] worthy of serious re-considerations that were effectively covered up by then-DA Seth Williams’ Conviction Review Unit, despite Mr. Walker’s case having already been carefully investigated by Centurion Ministries, an independent national nonprofit dedicated to exoneration work,” said the Philadelphia inquirer.
The Conviction Review Unit, however, was replaced with the Conviction Integrity Unit in 2018 by DA Larry Krasner.
According to the Philadelphia DA’s office the CIU “was staffed and resourced in line with the values of an office that prioritizes facts and integrity above politics in criminal investigations and prosecutions.”
The CIU granted Walker’s second Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) petition in 2018 requesting the CIU to reconsider the case.
After reviewing the police and prosecution files as well as investigating the case, the CIU agreed that the evidence of Walker’s guilt is weak and that his trial and conviction lacks integrity.
“The facts of the investigation and trial of Larry Walker raise concerns about the effectiveness of his defense counsel and of homophobic biases that might have been provoked, however unintentionally, among the jury. And as the original trial prosecutor himself has conceded, the evidence tying Walker to this horrible crime was exceedingly thin,” Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) Supervisor Patricia Cummings said.
Friday, the Hon. Tracy Brandeis-Roman ordered a new trial for Walker on 3rd degree murder, making him eligible for pre-trial release.
Though the office is satisfied with the justness of Friday’s outcome, “no one can be satisfied with the delay in delivering justice for the survivors of this crime, the absence of certainty about the crime, and lack of accountability for others who took part in it, or for Larry Walker,” said ADA Cummings.
“It is tragic that at least two other people involved in Mr. Coleman’s murder may never be held accountable, given the four-decade-long passage of time. My office will continue to encourage our partners in law enforcement to support science—and fact-based investigations that lead to just and accurate outcomes in the courts,” added DA Krasner.
Esha Kher is an undergraduate student at UC Davis studying Political Science and Computer Science hoping to pursue a career in corporate law. She is passionate about legal journalism and political advocacy that provokes new perspectives and sparks conversation among the public.
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