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Yeidja Bostick

Other Pennsylvania Cases with Perjury or False Accusation
On August 18, 1989, a stolen Volvo being pursued by police ran a red light in southwest Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, causing a three-vehicle collision that killed 56-year-old Audrey Fisher and injured seven others, including four children.

State Police Trooper Robert Debellis, who was in pursuit of the vehicle, identified the driver of the Volvo as 21-year-old Yeidja Bostick, an aspiring model, whose back was broken in the crash.

Bostick was charged with murder, vehicular homicide while under the influence of marijuana, aggravated assault, simple assault, reckless endangerment and receiving stolen property.

Bostick went to trial in June 1990 and elected to have a judge, instead of a jury, hear the evidence and reach a verdict.

The prosecution called Trooper Debellis, who testified that he came up behind the Volvo and turned on the siren of his unmarked car and the Volvo sped off. He said he saw that the driver was Bostick, who was white, and that a black man was in the passenger seat. Debellis said the Volvo reached speeds of up to 80 miles per hour before he lost sight of it.

Debellis testified that he next saw Bostick when he came upon the scene of the crash and her legs were on the driver’s side of the car.

The prosecution called three expert witnesses who said Bostick was the driver based on their analysis of a frayed seat belt, the driver’s side air bag, the nature of Bostick’s injuries and the condition of the inside of the car. Two other police officers also filed reports saying that Bostick was in the driver’s seat after the crash.

Four civilians and two different police officers testified that Bostick was in the passenger seat when they got to the scene of the crash.

The defense called a bartender, a black man who testified that he came out of the bar when he heard the crash, and that a state police trooper grabbed him and accused him of driving the car. The bartender said the trooper let him go after another employee of the bar vouched for him. The bartender’s description of the trooper fit Debellis, who was the only state police trooper at the scene of the crash.

Although Bostick told her lawyers that she was a passenger in the car and that the vehicle was being driven by Robert Hallman, whose 2-year-old niece was in the car at the time of the crash, Bostick did not testify in her own behalf.

The defense called an expert who testified that based on his analysis of photographs of the Volvo and police reports, Bostick was a passenger, not the driver of the car.

On June 27, 1990, Philadelphia County Commons Pleas Court Judge John Poserina, Jr., convicted Bostick of vehicular homicide, aggravated assault, five counts of recklessly endangering another person and three counts of simple assault. Bostick remained free on bond until February 1991 when Poserina sentenced her to five to 10 years in prison.

In December 1991, David Zucchino, a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, published an article that cast serious doubt on the prosecution’s case.

While investigating claims by black motorists that Debellis had harassed them during traffic stops, Zucchino began examining the case against Bostick. Zucchino found three witnesses—none of whom testified at the trial—who said they saw a tall, thin black man get out of the driver’s side of the Volvo and limp away moments after the crash occurred. Hallman, who was black, stood 6-foot-1 and weighed 165 pounds, the article noted.

One of the three witnesses, a mailman who was a former Philadelphia police officer, told Zucchino he saw a state police trooper chase after the black man who fled the Volvo, but abruptly broke off his pursuit and returned to the crash scene.

Although there were police reports that noted “conflicting reports” from witnesses, and that the man fleeing the scene may have been the driver, police never investigated further once Debellis said Bostick was the driver.

Zucchino located the dealership where the Volvo had been stolen. A sales employee said a tall black man with white spots on his hands (Hallman had white spots on his hands, according to Bostick) left a Delaware driver’s license and a new Toyota at the dealership on August 16, 1989—two days before the crash—and never returned. The Toyota and the driver’s license had been previously reported stolen, Zucchino reported.

Court records discovered by Zucchino revealed that Hallman had previously pled guilty to vehicular homicide and driving a stolen car in a 1984 police chase in Atlanta—a crime that was extremely similar to the Volvo accident. Three months prior to the Volvo crash, Hallman had been arrested in Atlantic City following a police chase.

Zucchino also learned that a month after the Volvo crash, police in West Chester, Pennsylvania, stopped Hallman while he was driving a stolen car, but Hallman managed to escape.

In an interview with Zucchino, Bostick said she had met Hallman when she had car trouble. He was at her mechanic’s shop and offered to give her a ride. Bostick said that Hallman had introduced her to members of the Philadelphia 76er’s professional basketball team and that they had spent the night together on the day before the crash. Bostick said she was in the passenger seat and Hallman was driving with his two-year-old niece on his lap. She said that when the trooper pulled up behind them and turned on his siren, Hallman thrust his niece at her and sped off.

Bostick said she was trying to buckle her seatbelt around her and Hallman’s niece when he ran a red light and was broadsided on the passenger side by a van. Agnes Fisher, a passenger in the van, was killed. Fisher’s husband and their three grandchildren had been injured. The driver of a third vehicle also was injured, as was Hallman’s niece. Bostick’s back was broken and steel rods were implanted following extensive surgery.

Following the publication of the article, more witnesses to the crash came forward and said that Bostick was in the passenger seat at the time of the accident.

In February 1992, the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld Bostick’s convictions. In March 1992, Bostick’s attorneys filed a post-conviction petition seeking to vacate her convictions based on the new evidence. The petition named five new witnesses who had not testified at the trial and all said Bostick was the passenger in the Volvo.

Judge Poserina conducted an evidentiary hearing over several days in July and October 1992. The witnesses testified that they saw the Volvo just before impact and identified Bostick as being in the passenger seat. The defense also presented evidence that in September 1992, Hallman had been arrested in Philadelphia on forgery charges. He gave a statement to police that he was the driver at the time of the crash. He subsequently recanted that statement. Hallman was called as a witness at the hearing, but he asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to testify.

In April 1993, Judge Poserina vacated Bostick’s convictions and she was released on bond pending a new trial.

Bostick went to trial a second time in December 1993. She chose to have her case decided by a judge rather than a jury a second time. On December 23, 1993, Common Pleas Judge Carolyn Temin acquitted Bostick of all the charges.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 11/10/2014
State:Pennsylvania
County:Philadelphia
Most Serious Crime:Manslaughter
Additional Convictions:Assault, Other Violent Felony
Reported Crime Date:1989
Convicted:1990
Exonerated:1993
Sentence:5 to 10 years
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Female
Age at the date of crime:21
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No