A Pennsylvania man who served 37 years behind bars has been freed after a federal court threw out his 1984 murder conviction. Willie Stokes, 61, walked out of the state correctional institution in Chester, Delaware County on Tuesday.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office investigated his case recently and found that he did not get due process. A federal court found last month that key witness Franklin Lee lied. It was discovered that detectives allegedly offered Lee sex and drugs in 1983 in exchange for false testimony.
Lee was charged with perjury just days after Stokes was convicted of murder in 1984. However, Stokes did not get to know about that perjury plea until 2015, so many years into a life sentence.
“Today is a tremendous day. We’re all very thankful,” Stokes’ lawyer Michael Diamondstein said Tuesday after his client’s release. “However, it’s also a sad day, because it reminds us of how lawless, unfair and unjust Philadelphia law enforcement was for so long.”
The detectives who allegedly offered witness Lee a sex-for-lies deal to help them close the 1980 murder case are now deceased.
Lee was in custody on unrelated rape and murder charges in 1984 when he was approached by two homicide detectives who offered him “sex, drugs, and a deal,” in exchange for framing Stokes, according to his testimony last November when the U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania agreed to hold a hearing.
“They said I wouldn’t do no more than two to five, the most seven years,” he told a federal judge.
Lee said the detectives also allowed his girlfriend to meet with him in private at police headquarters to have sex. He said the detectives later provided condoms and a sex worker.
“Once I talked to my mother, she told me, ‘I didn’t raise you like that, to lie on a man because you got yourself in a jam,'” Lee testified. “She said, ‘I couldn’t care if they give you 1,000 years. Go in there and tell the truth.’ And that’s what I did.”
During Stokes’s preliminary hearing in 1984, Lee claimed that Stokes was at his “house drinking, smoking, gambling,” adding that in his basement, he admitted to killing Leslie Campbell in North Philadelphia, according to court documents cited by The Washington Post.
Lee, who served 35 years on the rape, murder and perjury charges, was released two years ago and now works as an assembly line supervisor. He admitted in court that he was “weak” in accepting the bribes from the two detectives and apologized to Stokes “for the problem I caused.”
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner will later this month make a decision on whether to retry Stokes.