After a federal court overturned his 1984 murder conviction, a Pennsylvania man was released after 37 years in prison. Willie Stokes, 61, was released from a state prison in Chester, Delaware County, on Tuesday.
The office of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner recently researched his case and determined that he did not receive due process. Franklin Lee, a key witness, was found to have lied by a federal court last month. Detectives allegedly offered Lee sex and narcotics in exchange for false testimony in 1983, according to the investigation.
Just days after Stokes was convicted of murder in 1984, Lee was charged with perjury. Stokes, on the other hand, did not learn of the perjury plea until 2015, many years after he had been sentenced to life in prison.
“Today is a fantastic day. “We’re all grateful,” Stokes’ lawyer Michael Diamondstein said after his client was released on Tuesday. “However, it’s also a sad day because it reminds us of how lawless, unfair, and unjust Philadelphia police have been for so long.”
The police who allegedly offered witness Lee a sex-for-lies deal in exchange for his cooperation in solving the 1980 murder case are no longer alive.
According to Lee’s testimony last November when the United States District Court in Pennsylvania agreed to hold a hearing, he 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.
He told a federal judge, “They claimed I wouldn’t do more than two to five, at most seven years.”
The detectives also permitted Lee’s girlfriend to have sex with him in private at police headquarters, according to Lee. The investigators later offered 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.”
According to court documents reported by The Washington Post, during Stokes’ preliminary hearing in 1984, Lee alleged that Stokes was at his “home drinking, smoking, gambling,” and that in his basement, he admitted to killing Leslie Campbell in North Philadelphia.
Lee was released two years ago after serving 35 years in prison for rape, murder, and perjury. He now works as an assembly line supervisor. In court, he admitted to being “weak” in receiving the payments from the two cops and apologized to Stokes for “causing the problem.”
The decision on whether or not to retry Stokes will be made by Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner later this month.