A Brief Overview Of How An Innocent Man
Came To Be on Death Row
Two unknown assailants (the state maintains Jimmy was one of them-he was not) attacked Chedell Williams and her friend Zahra Howard as they were buying transit fares at Fern Rock Station. Chedell was shot and her earrings stolen in broad daylight in mid afternoon.
Zahra Howards Statement
To Police About The Shooting Of Chedell Williams
Jimmy was in a completely different area of Philadelphia. He was on a bus in a completely different area of Philadelphia at the time of the crime, his father saw him get on the bus, This bus runs nowhere near the scene of the crime. Many witnesses and avenues were not pursued in order for the police to try and make reality fit their version of the facts. Telephone records that were not investigated would have proven Jimmy elsewhere at the time of the crime.
In trying to identify the shooter, witness Zahra Howard initially told police that she was unable to identify Jimmy as the assailant.
Zahra Howard Unable To Identify Assailant As Jimmy In Police Lineup
All eyewitness accounts said
the shooter was a big guy, between 5'10" and 6' tall, was a
very dark skinned black male, and weighed approximately 200 lbs.
In contrast, Jimmy has a much lighter skin complexion than all witnesses described, weighed only 125 lbs, and he stands only 5'4" tall.
(His friends were known to call him 'Shorty')
Police coerced and intimidated witnesses into cooperating and signing statements that supported their story of the case. Specifically the statements of Charles Thompson, which were made under duress, while he was in the police station handcuffed to a chair, being interveiwed and misled by 5 detectives for hours on end. Police implied charges might be pending against Charles himself in this case if he didn't cooperate with them. Charles later recanted his statements to legal representatives.
Charles Thompson's 1996 Statement (Retraction)
During the course of the police questioning anyone and everyone in the projects where Jimmy grew up and lived, his name came up. Everyone that mentioned Jimmy's name to police had extensive police records, unlike Jimmy. (None of them showed up when it came to trial.) When he heard rumours that his name had even been mentioned, Jimmy and his father and brothers went to the Homicide Division to see if they wanted to talk to him. They waited almost an hour and were then told that the police didn't want to talk to him.
A month later Jimmy was arrested for the crime. There were supposed to be two other people involved with the crime, and police were posturing to the media that they were known. To date, no one is in jail for Chedell Williams' murder but Jimmy Dennis who is innocent. The killer walks free. Jimmy was tried and convicted by the media before he ever walked into the courtroom.
Jimmy only ever saw his lawyer, Lee Mandell, twice. The first time was the day before the trial, the second was at trial. Apparantely Mr. Mandell takes on more death penalty cases than anyone else in Pennsylvania, and does not have the resources and/or ability to represent them all adequetly. Before trial neither Jimmy nor his family could ever reach or get a return call from Lee Mandell's office.
At first Jimmy was charged with more crimes- as he says "This is a tactic used by Philadelphia police always to make one look like Jessie James or a cowboy. I was charged with 8 or 9 robberies-guess what? Two years later those cases were dropped, except for one. It all looks good in the paper though."
Published on 12/05/91, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER
SLAYING SUSPECT TO BE CHARGED IN 4 ROBBERIES
The family of James Dennis went to court yesterday, hoping to explain
why they are sure the police arrested the wrong man when they charged
Dennis with the slaying of Chedell Ray Williams over a pair of $450 earrings.
Instead, they were met with the news that Dennis, 21, would be charged
four more robberies.
All these robbery charges were later dropped.
No gun was ever found.
There are many important witnesses, and those who could corroborate and support Jimmy's innocence who were never interveiwed by police.
At the trial the
prosecutor showed a floral button that came off of Chedell William's clothes,
it had been ripped off by the shooter during the struggle. During
trial Jimmy turned to his attorney and asked whose fingerprints were on
the button and whether or not it had been tested. His attorney, Lee
Mandell said that they knew the prints weren't Jimmy's so, "who cares?".
Jimmy, of course, said that he cared, because the prints would be the killers.
Mandell didn't say anything in court, and also didn't ask for a test.
It is procedure to automatically conduct such tests and examinations where
such evidence exists in a case of this nature. The tests obviously
did not support the conclusions that the police and the district attorney
wanted the jury to come to.
So, not only did the police fail to find any forensic evidence linking Jimmy to the crime scene or to victim Chedell Williams, but an essential piece of evidence from the crime scene was never even tested for prints, or more likely it was tested, and never introduced into evidence because it did not fit their version of the story, and so test results were never given to the defense or entered into any court record.
During some points at trial, the jury foreman was falling asleep and nothing was done about it.
Witness David LeRoy, who owned a hot dog stand at the scene of the crime said later that the police had tried to make him pick Jimmy out as the shooter, but he said, "I will not take away anyone's life with a lie."
David LeRoy also said that after the killer took the earrings from the victim, Chedell, she stood up straight, stood back , and that was when the button came off her jacket, and that the killer was not holding Chedell when the shot was fired. If this is true, then the bullet would have travelled a different route in Chedell's body. Chedell was 5'10" tall. If a short person (like Jimmy) had shot Chedell, the bullet would go another way.
Thomas Bertha, another eyewitness to the killing, said in court that he was eye to eye with the shooter on a straight road, no hill or incline. When asked his own height, Bertha replied that he was 5'10". It was obviously not Jimmy Dennis, 5'4" that Bertha was eye to eye with.
Another witness, who saw Jimmy elsewhere that day, later said that she was basing her testimony of the time on the time her welfare check was cashed, which is listed in military time. She said she does not know how to tell military time, and thus was easily convinced by police into believing the "1300" was 3 oclock. She said police told her what to say.
July 1998 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision in which the majority denied
Jimmy a new trial was the closest one in years, 4-3. Three Supreme
Court judges thought Jimmy should get a new trial, due to prosecutorial
"Enter Intermediate Appellate Ct. or lower court
information" Appeal from the Judgment of
Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Criminal Division, Entered June 17, 1993, at Nos. Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County,
. . . While recognizing the foregoing dictate and
fact that the prosecutor's comments strayed from the evidence, slip.
op. at 14, 16, the majority, nevertheless, concludes that because the prosecutor
interspersed references to the evidence in his closing, along with his
improper comments, the overall effect of his summation was not prejudicial.
I cannot agree. The prosecutor continually urged the jury to consider
matters outside the evidence in an attempt to improperly appeal to the
juror's fears and emotions: "
In this case, ladies and gentlemen, let's get back to why I am standing
up here talking to you. Sometimes I realize that there are people who are
happy in their jobs, there are children who are happy, there are people
able to go to sleep without locking their doors, where young ladies can
walk the street at night and not be afraid, and where young ladies could,
in fact, be young ladies. * * * * *
Mr. Mandell mentioned motive. Must there be a motive? Are we coming
to a situation of the haves against the have nots? Are we coming to a situation
that when you get up in the morning and decide what to wear, what jewelry
to wear, that you put a target on your chest and on your back? 'Cause this
is what this case is about. This case is about right and this case is about
freedom. We're talking about the right that is right. We're talking
about the right to take public transportation. We're talking about the
right to be able to use public transportation without the fear of someone
waiting to get paid, someone waiting to rip you off. 'Cause this
is what this case is about, ladies and gentlemen. It's not about race,
it's not about size and height. What it's about, ladies and gentlemen,
is this. A young lady named Chedell Williams. Another way of putting
it would be something such as this. That my best witness is not
here. That's why I'm standing here."
( N.T. October 15, 1992, 87-88, 89-90) The majority cites to our decisions in
Commonwealth v. Thompson, 538 Pa. 297, 648 A.2d 315 (1994), and Commonwealth v.
Hamilton, 460 Pa. 686, 33 4 A.2d 588 (1975), as support for the proposition that this court has
permitted references to societal problems and the impact that the accused's behavior has on
society. . .
(See photo below of Sensation at a summer 1991 performance.)
with JIMMY DENNIS
Jimmy is married and the father
of two young girls, age 10 and 7.
A week after Jimmy was incarcerated, his wife gave birth to their youngest daughter. One of the worst things about this whole nightmare, for Jimmy, is that he has never spent a whole day with his youngest, and that all the time he has spent with her was in prison. He wishes he was there to take his children to school in the morning, to help support his wife and daughters, as well as his elderly parents, who have both had health problems in recent years.
Family is the most important thing in the world to him.