On August 21, 2013, federal judge Anita B. Brody granted death row prisoner James Dennis’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus and ordered that Pennsylvania retry him within 180 days or release him. In 1992, Mr. Dennis was convicted of first-degree murder and robbery and sentenced to death. His conviction was entirely based on three weak eyewitness identifications, testimony from a man who had felony charges dropped in exchange for his cooperation, and a description of Mr. Dennis’s clothing that was lost by the police before the trial. There was no physical evidence connecting Mr. Dennis to the crime. Defense counsel provided wholly inadequate representation. They did not interview a single eyewitness, spent under 15 minutes with Mr. Dennis’s alibi witnesses, and did not even attempt to find documentary evidence to support his alibi.
In 2000, a team of volunteer attorneys from Arnold & Porter agreed to represent Mr. Dennis in his post-conviction proceedings. They discovered that, during the guilt phase, the Commonwealth withheld three important pieces of evidence from the defense: 1) the main witness’s statement that she had recognized the robbers as people who attended her high school; 2) an inmate’s signed statement implicating two other individuals in the murder; and 3) a time-stamped receipt of an alibi witness that supported her statement that she had seen Mr. Dennis on the bus at the time of the murder.
After overturning Mr. Dennis’s conviction due to prosecutorial misconduct, Judge Brody stated that Mr. Dennis was “wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to die for a crime in all probability he did not commit” and that “Pennsylvania has committed a grave miscarriage of justice.”