Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Matthew Connor

Other Pennsylvania Cases with Mistaken Witness Identifications
On the morning of August 21, 1978, Darlene Snipes called 911 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to report a disturbing sight. She would later testify that she saw a man lying on his back on the floor of her apartment building’s fire-escape stairwell. She would also say he was wearing a blue-and-white striped T-shirt covered in blood.

The police arrived to investigate. The man was no longer there, but nearby they found the body of 11-year old Corinthia Fields, who was wearing a striped shirt. According to a preliminary examination by a pathologist, Corinthia had been raped and then killed by a shotgun. Later that day, a janitor in the building found an ice pick near the incinerator with human blood. The janitor would later testify that the pick wasn’t there the previous day.

The police interviewed other residents in the apartment building, Cynthia Lanier had reported hearing a female screaming at about 4 a.m. when she got up to feed her baby, but she did not contact authorities. Another person suggested the police investigate a man named Chris, who had threatened Corinthia a few weeks earlier because he believed she stole money from him. Meanwhile, someone else brought up a man named “Bosco,” who had threatened Corinthia because she had contacted the police about a stolen shotgun.

The police returned on August 23 to re-interview Snipes, who was 17 years old. She said she would probably be able to recognize the man she saw in the stairwell if she saw him again and was wearing that same shirt. After more questions, Snipes said that a man known as “Mr. June,” who lived on the 18th floor, wore shirts like that, and that he was the man she saw in the stairwell.

Mr. June was a name given to 41-year-old Matthew Connor, and he had already come under suspicion during the investigation. Other residents told the police Connor had a reputation as an ill-tempered neighbor who occasionally threatened people with a shotgun. In addition, Connor had been convicted six years earlier of statutory rape involving a 14-year-old girl.

Police executed a search warrant on Connor’s apartment that day and found a shotgun in the closet. Connor was placed under arrest and brought in for questioning about his whereabouts during the time Corinthia was killed.

Connor said he had spent the weekend at the home of his girlfriend, Laura Creer. Creer told police that Connor was with her most of the weekend but had left at midnight, just seven hours before Snipes called 911. She also said that Connor had threatened her and her son, Charles Sykes, with a shotgun, and that before Connor left on August 20, they had discussed breaking up.

During his interview with police, Connor denied any involvement in Corinthia’s death. But according to the notes of the interview, Connor also said he had heard that the girl “had been shot, stabbed, and is pregnant.” Connor was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and rape.

Two days after Connor was said to have made this statement, the medical examiner revised the cause of death after finding no shotgun pellets in Corinthia's body. The autopsy now said that the girl had been killed after being stabbed nearly 200 times with a sharp, thin instrument—like an icepick.

Creer told the police that her son had given her two ice picks for protection from Connor. When police searched her house, they couldn’t find the second pick. Creer viewed the pick found by the janitor and said it was hers, even though it was longer and didn’t have the same ice business printed on the handle.

Connor’s first trial took place in June 1979 in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. Connor’s defense was bolstered by the testimony of a woman named Irma Epps, who was Creer’s neighbor. She testified that she had watched Sykes dispose of an ice pick a few weeks after Connor’s arrest. Epps had then retrieved it from the trash. The ice pick was identical to the other one Creer still owned. The jury deadlocked, and Judge Albert Sabo declared a mistrial.

Connor’s second trial began on March 3, 1980. Epps was on the defense’s witness’s list, but she failed to appear. She told Connor’s attorney that she had been threatened if she testified again. The attorney moved to have her testimony from the first trial read to the new jury, but Judge Sabo denied the motion, ruling that Connor’s attorney had waited too long before telling the court of the problems he was having securing Epps’s testimony.

Snipes testified that she saw a man lying on the floor as she looked down her apartment staircase. She saw this man covered in blood wearing a striped T-shirt. When asked if she would be able to identify the man, she identified Connor. Creer testified and said that Connor had worn the same solid blue shirt all weekend, both before and after the girl’s death.

On March 15, 1980, the jury convicted Connor of first-degree murder and the rape. He was sentenced to life in prison for the murder and a consecutive sentence of 10-20 years for the rape.

Connor appealed, arguing that Judge Sabo erred in allowing the jury to view graphic photographs of the victim’s body and in barring Connor’s use of the Epps testimony from the first trial. The Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the conviction in 1983.

In August 1989, Connor’s case came to the attention of Reverend James McCloskey from Philadelphia. McCloskey was the founder of Centurion Ministries, a New Jersey-based nonprofit that investigates wrongful convictions. After looking into the case, McCloskey believed that Connor had been wrongfully convicted. He found inconsistencies in the testimony of Snipes, who said she saw Connor in a striped shirt in the stairwell, and Creer, who said he wore a solid blue shirt before and after Corinthia was killed. To McCloskey, it made no sense that Connor would have left Creer, changed shirts to commit a heinous crime, then changed back.

Centurion’s investigators found several pieces of evidence that the state had failed to turn over to Connor’s defense. For example, the police files contained an interview with a neighbor who said that Ronald Johnson, Fields’s half-brother, was known to walk around the neighborhood with an icepick. In addition, when Johnson was interrogated as a potential suspect, he had wounds on his arms and lipstick on his shirt. Johnson had a history of sexual assault with minors; it was reported that he had tried to force himself upon his own biological sister. Johnson had been shot to death in July 1983.

The state also hadn’t turned over a record of Snipes’s 911 call. In the call, she said she saw the man on the stairwell run away, rather than remain laying on the floor, as she had testified.

The Philadelphia County District Attorney’s Office reinvestigated the case. Among its findings: Snipes wore glasses. In an interview, Snipes still said that she was being truthful in her identification of Connor, but she also didn’t know whether she was wearing glasses that morning.

District Attorney Ronald D. Castille moved for a new trial on February 20, 1990, Judge Sabo granted the motion, and Connor was released from prison on March 2, 1990, on $25,000 bond.

On March 29, 1990, the state dismissed the charges. Connor later filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit, seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction. The case was settled in 1993, with Connor receiving $350,000.

– Dalma Gianinna Gomez

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date:  Before June 2012
Last Updated: 7/31/2023
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Rape
Reported Crime Date:1978
Age at the date of reported crime:41
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No