Officials in Philadelphia on Wednesday agreed to pay $9.8 million to an exonerated Black man who spent 28 years of his life in prison after he was convicted for a murder he did not commit. Prior to his conviction, Chester Hollman III had no criminal record.
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Hollman, then a 21-year-old armored-car driver, was driving around Center City in 1991 when he was pulled over and arrested for allegedly fatally shooting a student from the University of Pennsylvania in a botched street robbery. Hollman was, however, exonerated last year at the age of 49 after a judge ruled the evidence the police and prosecutors used was based on fabricated statements from witnesses they coerced. They also reportedly withheld evidence that could have likely implicated those who committed the crime.
“There are no words to express what was taken from me,” Hollman said in a statement, according to The Inquirer. “But this settlement closes out a difficult chapter in my life as my family and I now embark on a new one.”
Hollman’s settlement – which is one of the largest ever for an exonerated person in the city’s history – comes in the wake of other seven-figure settlements authorities have had to pay for acts of misconduct committed by the city’s police between the late 1980s and 90s. Since 2018, they have had to fork out over $35 million of taxpayers’ money to settle over a dozen people who were wrongfully convicted. City officials agreed to Hollman’s settlement even before he filed a lawsuit.
Speaking with The Inquirer, Hollman’s attorney, Amelia Green, said authorities were forced to swiftly resolve his case due to the weight of the evidence proving his innocence. City officials and the police have, however, not admitted any wrongdoing.
“There was irrefutable evidence that Chester was innocent, is innocent and has always been innocent and would never have been wrongfully convicted aside from extraordinary police misconduct,” Green said.
Hollman’s attorneys also said their client – who always maintained his innocence while incarcerated – was racially profiled by the police just because the car he was driving matched the description of the assailants. The two witnesses who confirmed Hollman as the shooter at the trial, also recanted, saying they were coerced by the detectives handling the case.
Detectives also allegedly ignored crucial tips and evidence that strongly linked likely suspects to the murder because they were already building their case around Hollman, the Conviction Integrity Unit revealed, according to The Inquirer. Prosecutors also failed to present that evidence – which would have vindicated Hollman – to the defense during the trial.
Meanwhile, the detectives behind the many wrongful conviction cases the city has had to settle, have either retired or are still with the force and have risen up the ranks. “You don’t have this many exonerations from one cohort of detectives unless it was a pervasive culture,” Green said. “There’s no way that the highest ranks weren’t aware.”