Judge vacates conviction of three men found guilty in brutal murder

 April 3, 2024

Three men from Philadelphia have spent more than a quarter century behind bars after a jury convicted them of a gruesome crime.

Yet according to ABC News, a state judge has just vacated their convictions on the basis of DNA evidence. 

Seventy-year-old woman raped and murdered in 1997

That decision came down this past Thursday from Common Pleas Judge Mary Alice Brennan, who has set a bail hearing for May 23.

ABC News explained that Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer has the option of either appealing Brennan's ruling, retrying the men, or dismissing the matter entirely.

The case concerns Henrietta Nickens, a 70-year-old woman who was sexually assaulted and beaten to death at her home in 1997.

Sam Grasty, Derrick Chappell, and Morton Johnson were found guilty of her murder along with burglary and criminal conspiracy charges.

Crime scene DNA did not match any of the defendants

Paul Casteleiro serves as legal director of the nonprofit Centurion as well as Grasty's attorney, and he noted that semen found at the crime scene did not match the DNA of his client or the other defendants.

What's more, Casteleiro pointed out that prosecutors said a green jacket which was recovered from Nickens' home belonged to Grasty.

However, a subsequent test showed that although DNA found on the jacket did not match any of the accused, it did match the unidentified semen.

"The state didn't answer any evidence in opposition to our DNA evidence and our crime scene reconstruction expert," Casteleiro was quoted as saying.

"Up until today, that hasn't been the course that they have taken. They opposed this [evidence of their innocence] and in every way," he added.

Defense attorney: "This case should have never gone to trial"

Johnson's attorney is Vanessa Potkin, who also heads up special litigation at the Innocence Project, and she conveyed a similar message.

"This case should have never gone to trial," ABC News quoted Potkin as saying. "As soon as the initial testing was done, law enforcement should have recognized that they had focused in on the wrong individuals."

"Because they refused to do so, they sent three innocent kids to prison where they were locked away for decades while the person who committed this crime walked free," she added.

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