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Stokes was wrongfully incarcerated following a bribing. Photo: Getty Images.
Stokes was wrongfully incarcerated following a bribing. Photo: Getty Images.

Willie Stokes, Philly man cleared of murder after 37 years in prison, sues the city

Following an unsolved 1980 dice-game killing, Stokes was wrongfully incarcerated when Philadelphia police bribed a chief witness.

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Philadelphia man Willie Stokes was freed from prison this January after serving 37 years of his sentence.

Wrongfully imprisoned, Stokes’ case was influenced by a perjured testimony. Police had offered sex and drugs to the case’s chief witness in exchange for Stokes’ framing.

The chief witness in question, Franklin Lee, had stated that Philadelphia police offered him the bribe at police headquarters following an unsolved dice-game killing in 1980.

After the trial, Lee was charged with perjury. A federal judge later discovered prosecutors had never disclosed this information. 

Lee would eventually recant his testimony at Stokes’ murder trial, citing a moment of consciousness. Still, Stokes was imprisoned despite the preceding recanting.

Stokes never knew until 2015 that Lee went to prison for perjury, and was in disbelief when informed. He was never told of the charges during the majority of his time in prison. 

Stokes has now accused the city of Philadelphia of “outrageous police misconduct.” Today, he is 60 years old. 

In Pennsylvania, out of the 100+ people exonerated in recent years, none served more prison time than Stokes following his wrongful imprisonment. 

“I’m not bitter. I’m just excited to move forward,” Stokes told the Associated Press after prosecutors announced they would not seek to retry the case.

When Stokes went to prison, he had a two-year-old daughter. He says his daughter died around 20 years ago, and he was not allowed to attend the funeral.

Stokes will be living with his mother going forward, as his pursuit of justice post-release continues.

Michael Diamondstein is the criminal lawyer who handled Stokes’ successful federal court appeal. Diamondstein shunned the actions of the police and prosecutors in the case

“They used perjured evidence to convict him and then charged the perjurer, and never told him. And then Willie was warehoused for 38 years,” he said.

Diamondstein believes Stokes’ wrongful imprisonment is a clear sign of “institutional racism, or pure bias.”

Both of the detectives who originally offered the bride to Lee are now dead.

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