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Dontia Patterson

Other Philadelphia Exonerations with Official Misconduct
On January 11, 2007, 18-year-old Antwine Jackson was fatally shot in the head outside of Mercado’s grocery store on Granite Avenue near Summerdale Avenue in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Three months later, on April 25, 2007, Jackson’s friend, 17-year-old Dontia Patterson, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and possession of an instrument of a crime.

On the day of the shooting, Patterson was seen standing over Jackson, screaming in disbelief that his friend had been shot. Police interviewed him that day and he said that Jackson sold drugs in the area. He said that one of the people who was on street after the shooting had recently threatened Jackson.

Almost immediately after the crime, other witnesses identified another man by name as the gunman and named at least two others involved in the shooting. The witnesses said Jackson was shot because he was selling marijuana at the corner near the store, and he refused demands to either sell somewhere else or turn his profits over to others who controlled the drug sales in that area.

However, that information was not only ignored by police, it was never disclosed to Patterson’s defense attorney.

Patterson went to trial in Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas on August 4, 2008. There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime. The prosecution contended that he shot Jackson, fled through an alley and then entered his nearby by home from the alley, changed clothes, and returned to scene where he pretended to be upset about Jackson’s death. The prosecution conceded there was scant evidence of any reason Patterson would kill his friend, but reminded the jury that evidence of a motive is not required to obtain a conviction.

Pierre Laventure testified that he was standing outside a barbershop about 150 feet from the grocery store with Allen Brunache, who worked in the barbershop, when they heard gunshots. Laventure said he ducked down after the first shot and then looked up. He said the gunman looked at him and then fled. Laventure identified Patterson as the gunman.

Laventure testified that about five minutes later, he saw Patterson come back to the scene dressed in different clothing. He admitted he only saw the gunman’s face for one or two seconds.

Brunache testified that he had been working at the barbershop for five or six months and had gotten to know the faces of area residents, including Patterson. He said that he managed to see the gunman’s face for a few seconds and recognized him as Patterson.

Brunache and Laventure both said that the gunman who fled was dressed in black. Patterson came to the scene dressed in khaki pants and a brown shirt.

The defense called Kareema Patterson, Patterson’s sister, who testified that she and her 16-month-old son lived with Patterson and their mother on Granite Street just a few doors away from the grocery store where Jackson was shot. She said that just before the shooting, she checked on Jackson and he was in bed sleeping. She said that she checked on him because he was an epileptic, and sleeping too long could trigger a seizure.

She testified that she then got into the shower and heard three loud bangs. She got out of the shower and came downstairs, where she saw Patterson putting on a pair of socks. She went out to the porch and Patterson ran up the street. Kareema also testified that there was no way to gain access to the back of the house because the garage had been barricaded shut after two prior break-ins. Moreover, the back door of the house was locked with a deadbolt, and her mother kept the door locked and the key with her at all times.

Jacqueline Patterson, mother of Dontia and Kareema, testified that the back door was locked when she went to work that morning (prior to the shooting) and that she had the key with her that day. She said that Dontia suffered from seizures after being struck by a drunk driver in 1999 and that by 2007, he was having two or three seizures weekly.

Kenya Jones testified for the defense that she was washing clothes in the basement of her home on Granite Avenue when she heard the gunshots and ran outside. She said she ran into Patterson, who was coming down the street. She said they went to the scene together.

The jury began deliberating on August 12 and could not reach a unanimous verdict. On August 12, 2008, the trial judge declared a mistrial.

Patterson went to trial a second time in July 2009. The second trial was very similar to the first, except for a new prosecution witness—Philadelphia police officer Eyvette Chandler—and a surveillance video from inside Mercado’s grocery store.

Chandler, who also lived in Granite Street, testified that she was getting ready for work when she heard the gunshots and ran outside. She said she saw Jackson fall and another man, whose face she did not see, run away. She said the gunman wore dark clothing and she could not identify him.

She said that after police arrived, she returned to her home briefly and then came back outside. She saw Patterson on the street, saying, “Oh, man, they shot the boy….The boy might be dead.” Patterson was wearing khaki pants and a black jacket, she said.

Chandler then testified that she had viewed the surveillance video from the grocery store. She said that on the video, she recognized Patterson as a man wearing dark clothing who was with Jackson in the store just before the shooting. Chandler admitted she did not see Patterson’s face in the video, but insisted that she recognized him by the manner of his movement.

“I knew Dontia’s stature, the way he moved, the way he walked,” Chandler testified. “He had—at the time—he had dark clothes on. I just know Dontia when I see him.”

During cross-examination, Chandler said that the person in the video “reminds me” of Patterson.

The prosecution also played several snippets of telephone conversations of calls Patterson made from the jail to family members, and contended the calls showed that Patterson was instructing them how to testify.

On July 13, 2009, after three days of deliberation, the jury convicted Patterson of first-degree murder and possession of an instrument of a crime. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld his convictions in 2011. In 2012, Patterson, acting without a lawyer, filed petition seeking a new trial. He maintained his innocence and cited the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that imposing mandatory sentences of life without parole on juveniles was unconstitutional.

Attorney Daniel Silverman was appointed to represent Patterson. In early 2016, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that its prior decision outlawing mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles could be applied retroactively, Silverman moved to vacate Patterson’s sentence.

Not long after, the Pennsylvania Innocence Project and the law firm of Cozen O’Connor began re-investigating Patterson’s case. In August 2017, the lawyers filed an amended petition for post-conviction relief. In addition to the sentencing issue, the petition cited a litany of mistakes made by Patterson’s trial defense lawyer.

These errors included the failure to:

• Investigate the crime scene to document the distance from the eyewitnesses Laventure and Brunache to the shooting.

• Obtain an expert to examine the surveillance video.

• Call the grocery store owner, who would have testified that Patterson was not in the grocery store with Jackson as Officer Chandler said.

• Present medical evidence of his epileptic seizures.

• Call friends and family members who would have testified that Patterson had epileptic seizures whenever he exerted himself—particularly while running.

• Call witnesses who would have testified that Patterson and Jackson were friends.Call Charles Berry, the father of Kareema Patterson’s children, who was at their home that day, went to Mercado’s to buy milk, and came back. Berry said Patterson was sleeping when he left and that he saw him go out to the street after hearing the gunshots.

The petition cited reports from two experts regarding the testimony of Chandler, Laventure, and Brunache. Jules Epstein, Director of Advocacy Programs at Temple University Beasley School of Law, visited the crime scene, took photographs, and concluded that “it is impossible, in the clearest of lighting conditions, to observe facial detail of an individual at the crime scene when viewed from the vantage point of (Laventure and Brunache).”

Epstein also said three factors were present that were a cause for concern regarding the accuracy and reliability of the identifications by Laventure and Brunache. Their opportunity to view the gunman was brief, a gun was being fired, and they were about 50 yards from the gunman when they viewed him.

Sean Morgan, a digital expert, examined the surveillance video and determined it played about three frames per second—a very slow rate compared to modern video footage, which can reach 48 to 60 frames per second. He concluded that it is “virtually impossible to identify someone in this footage based on characteristics of movement.” The footage’s low frame rate “results in a jerky depiction of motion…compounded with a low resolution which further drastically reduces distinctive characteristics in movement…it is impossible for someone to rely solely upon it for positive identification.”

The re-investigation by the Innocence Project and Cozen O’Connor also discovered that in March 2006, Officer Chandler’s son, Tyrone Talington, who also was a police officer, died in a fire in his home. Talington’s 13-year-old daughter, Brittany, was charged with setting the blaze because she was angry with her father.

Her father was upset that Brittany exchanged cell phones with Patterson when Brittany visited Chandler, and he had instructed her to stop doing that.

In response to the motion, Philadelphia County District Attorney Larry Krasner began a re-investigation of the case. In March 2018, the prosecution agreed that Patterson’s convictions should be vacated. He was released with an order requiring home confinement and an electronic monitor.

Anthony Voci, Jr., the head of the prosecution’s homicide unit, said afterward, “We have reviewed this matter and believe that the defendant may be innocent, but we’re not there yet in terms of completing our investigation, which is why we are not dropping the charges.”

On May 15, 2018, the prosecution filed a motion to dismiss the charges and detailed evidence that was favorable to Patterson, but was never disclosed to his trial defense attorney.

The undisclosed evidence included a “white paper” written the day after the murder by police and turned over to the prosecution. That report said the murder was the “result of an ongoing battle over the drug corner” where the grocery store was located. “Two groups involved in the feud were identified,” as were three people involved including the true gunman.

Also undisclosed were two photographic arrays prepared by the lead investigator, Philadelphia detective George Fetters, a month after the shooting that included the person named in the white paper as the gunman.

In addition, Fetters’s homicide file contained extensive notes of witness interviews that Fetters did not formalize in written statements and did not disclose. The witnesses corroborated and supplemented the conclusions of the white paper—including two witnesses who named the gunman and where he lived at the time.

The gunman was fatally shot on June 7, 2007, just a few blocks from where Jackson was killed five months earlier, and six weeks after Patterson was charged with Jackson’s murder.

The prosecution motion noted that “Chandler may have harbored a deep animosity towards Patterson due to his innocent connection” to the arson fire that killed her son and led to the prosecution of her granddaughter.

Patterson’s trials “by government design, were fundamentally unfair,” the motion said. The prosecution said it would not seek to retry “a case against a man who is probably innocent and whose case is so lacking in integrity.”

On May 16, the motion was granted and the case was dismissed.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/24/2018
State:Pennsylvania
County:Philadelphia
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Gun Possession or Sale
Reported Crime Date:2007
Convicted:2009
Exonerated:2018
Sentence:Life without parole
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:17
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No