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James Frazier

Other Philadelphia CIU Exonerations
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Shortly before 8:30 p.m. on May 14, 2012, 21-old Rodney Ramseur and his 21-year-old girlfriend, Latia Jones, were gunned down as they sat on the front porch of the Ramseur home on West Sparks Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Witnesses said a man approached the house and asked if Ramseur was there. When Ramseur came to the railing, the man opened fire, striking Jones three times and hitting Ramseur as well. He tried to run away, but having already been hit eight times, he fell to the ground. The gunman then walked over and fired another shot into the back of Ramseur’s head.

The shooter was described as a young black man in a gray hooded sweatshirt and dark blue jeans who fled on foot. Police also said they were seeking an older-model gray Ford Taurus with a black hood that may have been brought the gunman to the scene.

Police quickly theorized that Ramseur had been targeted because six days earlier, he had testified for the prosecution in a murder involving a childhood friend. The murder suspect, Garland Doughty, later pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter.

On June 19, 2012, Philadelphia police detective Philip Nordo, later saying he acted on a tip from an informant named “Nubile,” brought in 19-year-old James Frazier for questioning. Frazier later said that Nordo sought to cultivate Frazier as a source and to engage in sexual activity. Frazier said that Nordo threatened and intimidated him, including threatening to sexually assault him. These threats resulted in a false confession, Frazier claimed.

According to the statement, Tevon Robison, a friend of Doughty—against whom Ramseur had testified—learned of Ramseur’s testimony. On the evening of the shooting, Robison was at a restaurant with Frazier and Frazier’s half-brother, Taunzelle Garner. During their conversation, Robison said Ramseur was a “rat” and that he wanted to kill him.

In the confession, Frazier said he and Garner drove Robison to Ramseur’s house looking for him. When they did not see him, Robison made a telephone call and asked, “Is he out there now?”

He ended the call and got out of the car, telling Frazier to wait for him. Robison then walked to Ramseur’s house and began shooting. After the shooting stopped, Robison ran back to the car, saying, “Let’s go Let’s go.”

Frazier initially was charged with two counts of first-degree murder as well aggravated assault and weapons violations. On September 9, 2013, following a preliminary hearing, he went to trial in Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas on two counts of third-degree murder, aggravated assault, and illegal possession of a firearm.

No physical or forensic evidence linked Frazier to the crime—the prosecution’s case against him consisted of his confession. Although detectives obtained search warrants for the telephone records of “Nubile,” Frazier, Garner, and Robison, there were no records of any calls among any of them.

On September 13, 2013, he was convicted of two counts of third-degree murder, conspiracy, and retaliation. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Robison and Garner were never prosecuted in the case.

Frazier appealed and in July 2015, the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld the convictions.

On June 2016, Gerald Camp was convicted in Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas of illegal possession of firearm and possession of a firearm with an obliterated serial number. The conviction was based on the testimony of Detective Nordo, who said an informant named Rhaheem Friend had provided the tip that Camp was in possession of the weapon.

In early 2017, while Camp was awaiting sentencing, his defense attorney subpoenaed the records of prison phone calls of Friend. An examination of the calls showed that Friend and Nordo were communicating frequently. Nordo promised he would intervene in another criminal case against Friend. Nordo and Friend also made comments suggesting they had a sexual relationship. Prison records also showed that Nordo had deposited at least $400 into Friend’s prison commissary account.

After Camp’s lawyer presented this evidence to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, the prosecution re-investigated the case and agreed to seek to vacate Camp’s conviction on April 11, 2017.

In November 2017, Detective Nordo was suspended with intent to dismiss after an investigation showed he paid a witness in another case. A Philadelphia police spokesman said Nordo was the subject of a criminal investigation and that federal authorities were involved as well.

On December 6, 2018, following an investigation by the Philadelphia County District Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit, the prosecution asked that the murder conviction of Jamaal Simmons be vacated and the charges were dismissed. In January 2019, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News reported that several weeks before the dismissal, the primary witness against Simmons told the prosecution, including Patricia Cummings, the head of the Conviction Integrity Unit, that after being held in the homicide unit for a day, Nordo had pressured him to falsely implicate Simmons.

In February 2019, Nordo was indicted on charges of sexually assaulting witnesses and suspects, including once in an interrogation room.

On March 5, 2019, Common Pleas Court Judge J. Scott O’Keefe vacated Frazier’s convictions. On April 4, 2019, Conviction Integrity Unit chief Patricia Cummings dismissed the charges and Frazier was released.

On April 18, 2019, Frazier filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Philadelphia and Nordo. The lawsuit said that “as early as 2005,” the department “was aware of credible complaints that…Nordo, in his role as a Philadelphia police detective, groomed suspects for future sexual relationships. In grooming these suspects…Nordo promised leniency or reward money, used threats and coercion, and engaged in sexual assault.”

The lawsuit claimed that Nordo “used his position to cause witnesses to sign false or inaccurate interview statements and confessions.”

In May 2019, Cummings dismissed the 2016 murder conviction of Sherman McCoy, who falsely confessed during an interrogation by Nordo.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 4/26/2019
Last Updated: 5/21/2019
State:Pennsylvania
County:Philadelphia
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Other Violent Felony, Conspiracy
Reported Crime Date:2012
Convicted:2013
Exonerated:2019
Sentence:Life without parole
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:19
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No