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Shaurn Thomas

Other Philadelphia CIU Exonerations
On November 13, 1990, 78-year-old Domingo Martinez withdrew $25,000 in cash from his bank and set off in his car for one of his three travel agencies in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Along the way, according to eyewitnesses, his car was cut off by another car. When Martinez stopped, two men emerged from the other car and one of them shot Martinez through the windshield.

The two men dragged Martinez from the car and left him in the street to die. The two men then drove off in Martinez’s car with the $25,000. A third man—still behind the wheel of the car that cut off Martinez’s car—followed.

Martinez was beloved in Philadelphia’s Latino community. In 1942, he and his wife, Esther, opened a grocery store two years after arriving from their native Puerto Rico. By 1990, he owned three travel agencies and was known for his philanthropy.

Nearly two years later, in October of 1992, police arrested Nathaniel Stallworth on an unrelated charge. Stallworth said there were six people involved in Martinez’s murder, driving in two cars. He named his cousins, John and William Stallworth, as well Clayton “Mustafa” Thomas Jr., who was 23 at the time of the crime, and Thomas’s brother, Shaurn Thomas, who was 16 at the time of crime.

Police soon arrested John Stallworth on an unrelated charge. During questioning, police said he implicated Clayton and Shaurn Thomas, as well as his brother, William Stallworth, and a man named Louis Gay. When police determined that Gay was in prison on the day of the crime, Stallworth was allowed to amend his confession to implicate a man whose identity Stallworth said he did not know.

John Stallworth pled guilty to third-degree murder and agreed to testify for the prosecution. In 1993, police arrested William Stallworth, as well as Clayton and Shaurn Thomas. They were charged with murder, robbery, conspiracy, and illegal use of a weapon.

William Stallworth also pled guilty, and testified for the prosecution at the trial of Clayton and Shaurn Thomas in Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas in December 1994.

By that time, Clayton Thomas and Jimall Randall had been convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the robbery and murder of 61-year-old Harvey Bryant on December 30, 1990. Bryant was attacked as he walked into his office after coming from a bank where he had deposited cash from two of his string of gas stations and markets. Both were sentenced to life in prison.

William Stallworth testified that he was with Shaurn Thomas in a car that was following one driven by Clayton Thomas. According to William Stallworth, Clayton Thomas rammed into Martinez’s car, got out, and shot him through the windshield. Thomas then smashed the driver’s side window, reached in to open the car door, grabbed Martinez, and dragged him into the street.

Shaurn Thomas’s defense attorney presented an alibi defense, contending that Shaurn had been checking into a court for juvenile offenders. The defense lawyer presented a copy of a subpoena that he said Shaurn had signed. The defense lawyer, however, failed to call Shaurn’s mother or sister, who could have testified that Shaurn was in court waiting for his initial appearance when Martinez was murdered.

On December 19, 1994, the jury convicted Shaurn and Clayton Thomas of second-degree murder, robbery, conspiracy, and illegal use of a weapon. Both were sentenced to life in prison without parole. Prior to the trial, Shaurn had rejected an offer to plead guilty in return for a sentence of five to 10 years in prison.

Their appeals were rejected. But in 2009, James Figorski, a retired Philadelphia police officer who had become a lawyer at the law firm of Dechert LLP, began volunteering to review cases at the Pennsylvania Innocence Project. One of the first cases he examined was Shaurn Thomas’s, and Figorski quickly came to believe that Shaurn’s alibi was truthful and that he was innocent.

In 2011, William Stallworth recanted his testimony, saying that he had testified falsely to obtain favorable treatment from the prosecution for his brother. Stallworth denied even being at the scene of the murder. A handwriting expert examined the subpoena and concluded that the signature was Thomas's.

A petition seeking to vacate Shaurn’s conviction was filed, but a Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas judge rejected the petition. In 2016, while that decision was being appealed, the Philadelphia County District Attorney’s Office conviction integrity unit agreed to re-investigate Shaurn’s case.

During that investigation, the prosecution requested the police homicide file in the case. Although defense attorneys had been told the file could not be located, police eventually found it and delivered it to the prosecutors. The file contained statements that indicated that police had stopped three men in a car three days after the murder, and all were considered possible suspects in Martinez’s murder. The file also contained a statement from a witness that only one car was involved—contradicting William Stallworth’s trial testimony that he and Shaurn were in a second car and confirming multiple eyewitness accounts. That file had never been disclosed to the defense.

The file contained police reports saying that Oliver Walthour was stopped by police days after the murder in a damaged car that matched a witness’s description of the vehicle used in the Martinez killing. The documents also said that Walthour told police some details about the murder that were not public while trying implicate someone else. When police asked him to take a polygraph test, Walthour refused and said his statements were lies.

A few months after Martinez was slain, Walthour was charged with fatally shooting Rene Cardona, a store owner, just blocks from where Martinez was murdered. Walthour was convicted of that crime and sentenced to life in prison.

During the re-investigation, Stallworth repeated his recantation to the prosecution. In addition, the prosecution concluded it was “more likely” Shaurn was in court than committing the murder. On May 23, 2017, the prosecution acquiesced to the post-conviction request to vacate Shaurn's convictions. On June 13, 2017, the prosecution dismissed the charges.

In 2018, Shaurn’s brother, Clayton, who had no alibi for his whereabouts on the day of the crime, filed a petition for a new trial under the Post-Conviction Relief Act. On October 1, 2018, the petition was granted and his conviction was vacated because of the prosecution’s failure to disclose the same information that was withheld from Shaurn Thomas’s defense lawyers.

On May 31, 2019, the Philadelphia County District Attorney’s office dismissed the charges. Shaurn Thomas was in court when the charges were dismissed. He told reporters that his brother was not involved in the murder and that the dismissal was important even if his brother was still in prison for another conviction. “Justice is justice,” he said. “Now we can close that chapter and move on.”

Martin Devlin, the detective who investigated the Martinez murder, also was involved in the investigation of the murder that resulted in the conviction of Anthony Wright. Wright was convicted of murder in 1993 and sentenced to life without parole. He was granted a new trial after DNA tests excluded him from the crime, and he was acquitted at a retrial in 2016.

In 2017, Thomas filed a civil rights lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia. It was settled in late 2019 for $4.1 million.

In October 2019, Willie Veasy was exonerated of a 1992 murder in Philadelphia. He had been convicted in part because of a false confession obtained by Devlin and fellow detective Paul Worrell.

In June 2020, Walter Ogrod was exonerated and released from Pennsylvania's death row. He had been convicted in Philadelphia of the murder of a four-year-old based on a false confession obtained by detectives Devlin and Worrell.

Also in June 2020, Andrew Swainson was exonerated of a Philadelphia murder investigated by Detective Manuel Santiago, who worked with Detective Devlin. Swainson was released after more than 31 years in prison.

In August 2021, Santiago, Devlin and another detective, Frank Jastrzembski, were charged with perjury and other crimes for their conduct in the investigation and prosecution of Wright. Philadelphia County District Attorney Larry Krasner said Santiago and Devlin had coerced what was a clearly false confession from Wright. He said Santiago and Devlin used “unlawful tactics in order to coerce Wright” into signing the confession. Krasner said they prevented him from reading what he had signed, had made false promises that he could go home if he signed the document and made violent threats toward him.

Krasner said Jastrzembski lied under oath about finding the bloody clothing that linked Wright to the crime while searching his room. Krasner said the clothes were actually found at the victim’s house.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 6/20/2017
Last Updated: 8/13/2021
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Robbery, Illegal Use of a Weapon, Conspiracy
Reported Crime Date:1990
Sentence:Life without parole
Age at the date of reported crime:16
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No