By Michael Wheeler
PHILADELPHIA, PA —A Philadelphia court vacated the conviction of Arkel Garcia for a murder conviction dating back to 2013, announced Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner last Friday, the latest in a string of overturned convictions obtained by Krasner since taking office in 2017.
This conviction was tainted by a dirty cop – eight of his cases have been overturned or dropped – and prosecutorial misconduct, said Krasner.
Garcia was convicted of the November 30, 2013, murder of Christian Massey in a Black Friday theft of a pair of headphones that Massey had recently bought. The headphones were ultimately left at the scene of the crime and not kept as physical evidence by authorities.
During Garcia’s trial, the former district attorney illegally withheld evidence from being presented to the jury. Most importantly, however, Philipp Nordo, the lead detective in the case, engaged in misconduct which resulted in a conviction being obtained on dubious grounds, according to the DA’s Office.
Nordo obtained a confession from Garcia during an unrecorded interrogation which lasted for two hours.
No direct eyewitness testimony or forensic evidence tied Garcia to the crime, so the prosecution’s case rested on Nordo’s testimony and that of an unnamed informant who provided Nordo with information relating to Garcia.
Video taken of the incident refuted parts of Nordo’s confession, but prosecutors instead stated that Garcia’s testimony was false, thus bolstering the otherwise unsupported evidence provided by Nordo.
The prosecution also failed to disclose to the court that Nordo had participated in multiple acts of sexual misconduct, which, according to Conviction Integrity Unit supervisor Patricia Cummings, “generally involved allegations of his abusing his power to sexually assault and groom young men who were either suspects or witnesses.”
She continued, “Had the jury at the time known about Detective Nordo’s history of allegedly abusing his power as a homicide detective to coerce incriminating and unreliable statements from witnesses and suspects, including his alleged acts in this case – which our investigation uncovered – there is a reasonable probability the jury would not have convicted Garcia, in our opinion.”
Despite being promoted, Nordo has since been fired from the Philadelphia police department and Krasner “charged him with multiple counts of rape and sexual assault in 2019.” Because of Nordo’s repeated acts of misconduct, eight murder cases have been dropped or overturned because of their connection to him.
Krasner expressed no joy at the overturning of Garcia’s murder conviction, stating, “As a prosecutor tasked with reforming an office and an institution plagued by unchecked abuses of power for decades, there is no cause for celebration in this matter. Our office and the courts found Garcia’s trial was fundamentally unfair.”
Despite his murder conviction being vacated, Garcia remains in prison for charges relating to assaulting a police officer during his sentencing hearing at the end of his murder case in February 2015.
Expressing his sympathy for Garcia’s family, Krasner said, “This is where law enforcement who, in my opinion, sold their oaths…undermining of confidence in our justice system.”
Michael Wheeler is a junior at UC Davis, where he studies History and Economics. He is from Walnut Creek, California.
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