On December 22, 1990, 33-year-old Darryl Patterson and 34-year-old Thomas Winn were shot to death during a drug deal in an alley near Winn’s home in Philadelphia.
Several witnesses described the gunman as a thin, light-skinned black man about six feet tall who was known in the neighborhood as Don Ray.
About seven months later, on July 15, 1991, police began looking for Don Ray Adams, although he was dark-skinned, stocky, five feet four inches tall and went by the name of Muhammad.
Prior to the arrest, police interviewed a man named Don Ray who lived on the same street, but rejected him as a suspect.
When Adams heard police were looking for him, he called an uncle who was a police officer, who took Adams to the detectives, where they arrested him for the murders.
In November 1992, Adams went on trial before a Common Pleas Court jury. The chief witness against him was Donna Benjamin, a convicted felon and crack cocaine addict, who said that Adams approached Patterson and Winn to buy cocaine and then pulled a pistol to rob Patterson.
Benjamin said she happened to walk into the alley at that moment and fell to the ground as Adams fired several shots, killing Patterson and Winn.
She said Adams turned to her and she pleaded, “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot. It’s me.”
Benjamin told the jury that when Adams recognized her as living in the neighborhood, he told her she could leave.
Adams, a barber, testified that at the time of the murders, he was cutting hair in his home not far from the crime and heard the gunshots. However, his two customers both had outstanding warrants and could not be located to testify that he was not the killer.
Six other eyewitnesses could not identify Adams as the gunman.
The jury found Adams guilty on November 10, 1992 and Judge Carolyn E. Temin sentenced him to life in prison.
In 2007, Benjamin came forward and reached out to Adams’ trial lawyer. She recanted her testimony, saying she had turned her life around and that police had pressured her to implicate Adams.
Philadelphia attorney Terry Pugh agreed to file a post conviction motion seeking a new trial based on the recantation. Following a hearing where Benjamin testified, Judge Temin granted a new trial.
On April 25, 2011, following a retrial before Judge Temin, a jury acquitted Adams and he was released the following day.
– Maurice Possley