On Wednesday, a man who spent 15 years in prison for murder filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Philadelphia, as well as two detectives who investigated the killing that led to his incarceration.
Donald Outlaw spent that lengthy amount of time behind bars for the murder of Jamal Kelly, which happened back in 2000. The Associated Press reports that his lawsuit is one of several that’s tied up the city in court battles over alleged crooked investigations and prosecutions that took place decades ago.
Outlaw’s attorneys are accusing the city and its police department of ignoring the actions of homicide detectives, which resulted in their client not getting a fair trial. They say this included the withholding of evidence that would’ve pointed to someone else being guilty, and the intimidation of (or payment to) witnesses to get them to make false statements. They say these were violations of Outlaw’s civil and constitutional rights.
“Mr. Outlaw’s wrongful incarceration was the direct result of egregious misconduct by Defendants,” they wrote in the lawsuit. “Defendants improperly used their power and position to coerce witnesses into making false statements and identifications, and to offer sworn testimony that they knew to be false. Defendants also withheld exculpatory evidence that would have demonstrated Mr. Outlaw’s innocence and deliberately disregarded information and evidence that would have demonstrated flaws in the case against him.”
The reference to evidence withheld concerns a charge that claims police were told by Kelly, with his dying breath, that the man who murdered him went by “Shank.” Outlaw reportedly learned of that after already serving 15 years. His original trial was held in 2004, and it’s reported by the AP that Kelly’s dying declaration wasn’t mentioned at the time. Furthermore, four witnesses who had recanted or claimed that they’d signed off on the officers’ written statement that they hadn’t actually read still had those same statements relayed to the jury. Prosecutors told the jury that Outlaw had successfully intimidated those people from testifying.
Also named in the suit are a pair of detectives, Jeffrey Piree and Howard Peterman. According to Outlaw’s attorneys, three different prisoners had been recently granted exonerations by cases investigated by Piree.
Though the lawsuit went uncommented upon by a city spokesperson who said officials hadn’t seen it yet, it was stated that neither detective is currently a city employee.
Outlaw’s release from prison came after the Pennsylvania Innocence Project got the court to open a file that included Kelly’s dying words, and also a witness saying in a letter that he was hoping to get out of his own prison stint if he testified.
In addition to that, Outlaw’s wife put up fliers looking to get a witness with info to share that with authorities. That call was answered when someone who says they saw the shooting came forward to say that it was committed by someone else. That person’s testimony, combined with a witness from the original trial who claimed detectives helped him come up with a fake story blaming Outlaw, led to a judge letting him out on bail.
Prosecutors stated their original intent was a re-trial, but the case was later dropped after it was decided that there wasn’t enough evidence.
Since the end of 2016, 21 people had been exonerated in the city. Eighteen of those have come in the past three years following the election of a new DA who ran on reforming the criminal justice system and reducing incarceration. As a result, between 2018-20 the city has paid out more than $35 million for wrongful incarcerations, including a nearly $10 million payment to a man who spent three decades in prison for a murder he didn’t commit.
Outlaw is seeking compensation for missing out on educational, personal and life experiences while incarcerated.