On December 20, 1973, Steven Gibbons was bound, strangled, and stabbed to death with an ice pick in the course of a robbery at his home in Philadelphia. A man named Donahue Wise – a schizophrenic with a drug habit and a long criminal history – was arrested for the crime. Wise implicated 17-year-old Edward Baker and another man as his accomplices.
Baker was arrested and confessed. He claimed that he had been beaten by police, and told that if he confessed he would be allowed to go home. This confession was later ruled inadmissible because of improper police conduct. The three suspects were tried separately. Wise testified against the two others under a deal that provided that he would only serve three years in prison for his role in the murder.
At trial, Baker claimed he was at a wake in a different part of the city at the time of the crime. His attorney did not challenge Wise's account of the crime or call character witnesses who would have supported Baker. There was no physical or forensic evidence against Baker. Nonetheless, based on Wise’s testimony, he was convicted by a jury of first degree murder, burglary, robbery and conspiracy, on September 27, 1974. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Post-conviction relief failed and Baker spent the next 24 years in prison. The third man convicted of the crime had his conviction reversed on other grounds, was retried and sentenced to a short term in prison, and subsequently died.
Centurion Ministries eventually accepted Baker’s case and was able to convince Wise to officially recant in 1996. Many witnesses corroborated Wise’s recantation, since Wise also admitted that he had lied to other people both before the Gibbons murder investigation and in the intervening years. Wise eventually told the court that he had lied about who was involved in order to get a short sentence, and he identified the real criminals who took part in the killing.
In September of 1997, after an evidentiary hearing, a state trial court ordered a new trial. Baker was not released until December 14, 1999, after a prolonged fight with prosecutors over bail.
In the meantime, in addition to Wise’s recantation, advocates for Baker located twelve other witnesses who substantiated Baker’s alibi. Before a new trial could be held Wise, the only person ever to implicate Baker, died.
Prosecutors then offered a plea bargain to Baker, but he refused. Finally, on February 11, 2002 the prosecution dismissed all charges against Baker in exchange for an agreement not to seek compensation.
— Michael S. Perry