On April 10, 1988, 64-year-old Dorothy Sewell, her 33-year-old nephew, Tyrone Mason, and Mason’s girlfriend, Cynthia Goines Mills, 40, were hacked to death with a carpenter’s hatchet in Sewell’s home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Harold Wilson, 30, who had been staying in the home for a few days prior to the crime, was arrested the following day when he came to a friend’s home with cuts on his hands and an envelope stuffed with cash.
During interrogation, Wilson admitted having used drugs in the house, but denied he committed the murders.
He went on trial in October 1989 and police testified they found a jacket spattered with the victims’ blood in the basement of Wilson’s home.
On October 4, 1989, Wilson was convicted by a jury of three counts of first-degree murder. Wilson testified at the penalty phase portion of the trial that he had found the victims while he was high on narcotics and that he got blood on the jacket when he tried to remove an ice pick from Mason’s chest. The jury sentenced him to death.
In 1997, Lynne Abraham was fighting for re-election as Philadelphia District Attorney against Jack McMahon, the lead prosecutor in Wilson’s trial. A training video of McMahon advising new prosecutors to keep poor African Americans off of juries was leaked to the media.
In 1997, Wilson’s death sentence was set aside when a trial court ruled that his trial defense lawyer had failed to investigate and present mitigating evidence during the penalty phase of his trial in 1989.
Armed with the video of McMahon, Wilson obtained a new trial in 2003 when a trial court judge found that McMahon had improperly exercised peremptory challenges to in a discriminatory fashion to eliminate African Americans from the jury.
After a second trial ended in a mistrial, Wilson went on trial for a third time in 2005. The defense presented DNA test results that showed that the blood on the jacket—which the defense contended was too small to fit Wilson—was that of the victims and an unidentified male. Wilson’s DNA was not found on the jacket.
On November 15, 2005, Wilson was acquitted and released from prison.
Wilson filed a federal civil wrongful conviction lawsuit against the District Attorney’s office and the city of Philadelphia. The lawsuit is pending.
– Maurice Possley