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Jahmir Harris

Other Philadelphia, Pennsylvania exonerations
At 8:15 p.m. on December 23, 2012, 45-year-old Louis Porter pulled his car into a Walgreens parking lot at 23rd Street and Oregon Avenue in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Another car drove in after Porter, a man got out and fired 17 gunshots. Porter suffered multiple bullet wounds. His five-year-old son watched in shock.

Michele Markey was the first witness to call 911 to report the shooting. She said she was getting out of her car and the shooter had his back to her. She ducked back inside her car and she did not want to get back out. She said the gunman was a Black man dressed in black clothing. Markey provided a partial license plate number of the shooter’s car—FSH456. She said she thought she saw someone in the passenger seat.

When the 911 dispatcher said she was missing a number, Markey said, “That’s all I saw, sir. He had the gun waving right in front of me. I got in the car and I got down.” Asked if it was a Pennsylvania license plate, Markey said, “Yes.” She also said the gunman's car was blue.

Other witnesses reported that the license plates were from New York, that the car was gray and appeared to be a Ford. All the witnesses except Markey said the gunman was alone in the car.

Later that night, Markey was interviewed at the police station. There, she said that both a driver and a passenger got out of the car to shoot at Porter and that a man near Porter was filming the shooting.

A Walgreens security video confirmed that Markey had only the briefest of looks. The video, like Markey, was unable to provide a view of the shooter’s face. And it showed that no one got out of the passenger side of the shooter’s car and that no one was filming it.

Porter’s sister, Yvonne, told police that the night before the shooting, Porter told her that 23-year-old Jahmir Harris had sold him some fake Percocet pills and Porter was having a hard time getting back his money from Harris. Yvonne said that after she saw a report of the shooting on the television news, she called Tammy Harris, who was Harris’s mother and said she thought Harris was the gunman. Tammy Harris was a friend of Louis Porter—they had grown up in the same south Philadelphia neighborhood. She told Yvonne that Porter had contacted her trying to get money to pay back the man to whom he had sold the fake pills. Tammy said Porter told her the man he had sold to was threatening to kill him. Porter told others as well that his life had been threatened by person who had bought the pills and wanted his money back.

On December 26, 2012, Markey viewed a photo array and identified Jahmir Harris as the gunman. Markey had initially told police that the shooter was "really big. He was very tall, he had a very large build, not fat." Harris was the only person in the array who was large as Markey had described.

James Moore, who also was at the Walgreen's at the time of the shooting and who was facing the gunman when the shots were fired, also viewed the photo array. Moore had said the gunman was 5 feet 9 inches tall and heavy set. He did not identify Harris.

Four days later, on December 30, Porter succumbed to his wounds.

Tammy Harris told police that she had met Porter at his barber shop before the shooting and he told her that Harris owed him $3,900. Porter said that he needed the money because his life had been threatened as a result of the fake pills.

Police arrested Harris on March 17, 2013 on charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, possession of an instrument of a crime, illegal possession of a weapon, and illegal use of a weapon. He was 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 350 pounds.

In January 2015, Harris went to trial in Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. Yvonne Porter testified about her conversation with Porter during which he said that Harris owed him thousands of dollars. She said she had called Tammy Harris immediately.

Tammy Harris testified that on the day before the shooting, Louis Porter left word at a relative’s house that he wanted to speak to her or to Harris’s father. She said she visited Porter at the barbershop on December 23, and he told her that Harris owed him $3,900 for some pills. She said Porter told her that “he needed his money because his life was threatened because he owed someone else some money.”

Tammy Harris said she told Porter that she didn’t have that much money, but that she would try to help pay off the debt. She told the jury that she called her son at some point before the shooting.

She said she called Harris after learning that Porter had been killed, but he did not answer his phone. She said she did not see Harris until after Christmas, and then he denied involvement in the crime and denied that he owed Porter any money.

Markey testified that as she was getting out of her car, she heard gunshots directly behind her. Her only opportunity to view him was “a couple of seconds” in which she looked out the back window of her car as the shooter reversed his car out of the parking lot. She said that the passenger did not get out of the gunman's vehicle, but stayed inside and ordered her to get back into her car. She said she saw the passenger because the driver's side door was left open during the shooting. She said she got back in her car and called 911. Markey, who was white, said she had identified Harris, who was black, in a photo array and a live lineup. And she identified Harris from the witness stand as the gunman.

A medical examiner testified that Porter’s death was a murder caused by multiple gunshot wounds. A police firearms analyst said that 17 shell casings were recovered and all had been fired from the same weapon, a nine-millimeter semi-automatic pistol.

During the trial, Harris's defense attorney, Brian McMonagle, requested a mistrial because records for Harris's two cell phone had not been disclosed by the prosecution. The trial prosecutor agreed that a mistrial should be granted, but the trial judge declined. Instead, a detective trained in cell phone site analysis evaluated the data obtained by homicide detectives from the two phones and testified that it appeared both of Harris's phones were together and were not in the Walgreens parking lot at the time of the crime.

On January 12, 2015, the jury convicted Harris of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, possession of a firearm without a license, and possession of an instrument of a crime. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In February 2015, attorney Michael Wiseman appeared on the case to handle the appeal. In August 2016, the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld the convictions.

In 2018, Wiseman filed a petition for post-conviction relief. Subsequently, the Philadelphia County District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) began reviewing the case at Wiseman’s request.

As part of that review, the CIU turned over the police homicide unit’s file in the case. The file contained two anonymous tips. The first said that Porter was shot over an oxycodone deal gone bad. The second said that Porter was "playing the middle man in a drug deal. He bought a large amount of perc 30's from a guy that turned out to be fake, but [he] had already sold them to some people." The tipster said that Porter "was trying to get his money, but the guy who sold them to him kept avoiding him and one of the guys he sold them to was threatening him via text message."

That file revealed that detectives had identified the car used by the shooter. Detectives had obtained a list of all Ford vehicles with Pennsylvania plates containing FSH within a 30-mile radius of Philadelphia. None of those cars fit the description of the shooter's car. Since some witnesses at the scene said the gunman's car had New York plates, the detectives also began looking through real time crime license plate reader results for a Ford vehicle, including those with New York plates. On December 26, 2012, detectives had found a Ford vehicle with a New York license plate of FSH4856, which was very close to what Markey had given: FSH456. The photo from the reader had been taken on December 23, 2012 on 62nd Street between Washington Avenue and Carpenter Street, about 4.5 miles from the Walgreens parking lot.

When detectives ran the registration on December 26, they discovered it was a four-door gray Ford Fusion rental car. On December 27, detectives received a response from the Pennsylvania Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to their query as the driver’s license number listed in the rental. The December 27, 2012 DMV printout indicated that number belonged to a man identified later in court by his initials, A.J. The printout contained handwritten and undated notes stating: “veh. rented 12/21/12...veh. returned 12/24/12.” Detectives had determined that A.J. had a criminal record for attempted murder and had been in prison, though not at the time of the shooting.

During the CIU investigation, transcripts from A.J.’s attempted murder trial were obtained. One of the victims in the case had identified A.J. as “Tone.” The CIU determined that A.J.’s cell phone number was listed in Porter’s cell phone under the name “Tone.” Additionally, the transcripts also revealed that A.J. had shot at the victims as a result of a dispute over drug territory. One victim testified the only reason A.J. did not kill them was because his gun jammed.

None of that information had been disclosed to Harris’s defense.

The extraction of Porter’s cell phones listing all incoming, outgoing, and missed calls from December 18, 2012 through December 23, 2012 showed that during period “Tone” and Porter spoke on eight occasions when Tone called Porter. The last time was on December 22, the day before the shooting. There were 14 missed calls from Tone to Porter during that period. There was one call going from Porter to Tone on December 23 at 12:35 p.m., less than eight hours before the shooting.

The CIU issued subpoenas to several rental car companies looking for any rentals by Harris or A.J. during the month of December 2012. There were no rentals by Harris. However, Avis reported that A.J. rented the Fusion on December 21, and returned it on December 24. The contact number that A.J. listed for the rental was the same number listed under “Tone” in Porter’s cell phone.

In December 2020, Wiseman filed an amended petition for post-conviction relief, citing the evidence pointing to A.J. that had not been disclosed by the prosecution at the time of Harris’s trial. The petition also contained an affidavit from McMonagle said he had not received the evidence. The filings noted that “Tone and Porter had a significant number of connected and attempted calls in the days and hours leading up to the shooting.” In addition, Porter’s phone showed one missed call from A.J. on December 23, 2012 at 4:38 p.m., less than four hours before the shooting.

“In contrast,” the petition said, “there is zero evidence showing that there was ever any contract, in person or via text, between [A.J.] and Mr. Harris.”

At an evidentiary hearing on January 19, 2021, the CIU submitted an affidavit from the trial prosecutor which stated she had the police homicide unit’s file in her possession prior to the trial, but did not recall seeing the documents or passing them to McMonagle. The prosecutor noted that there were numerous documents in the file and none of them were labelled A.J. or “alternate suspect.”

Assistant District Attorney Patricia Cummings, chief of the CIU, made an oral motion before Common Pleas Judge Rose Marie DeFino-Nastasi, who presided over Harris’s trial in 2015, to vacate and dismiss the case. The judge granted the motion to vacate the conviction, but she declined to dismiss the case. She ordered the CIU to file a motion to dismiss in writing and to outline its entire investigation that supported the motion to dismiss. The judge also posed additional factual questions.

On February 24, 2021, the CIU filed the motion to dismiss along with a report that outlined a reconstruction of the shooting using the same make and model of the shooter’s car and Markey’s car. The CIU reported that the reconstruction showed that Markey could not have seen a passenger inside the shooter’s vehicle, as she had testified. The reconstruction also showed it would have been virtually impossible for Markey to identify the shooter in the seconds when he reversed at high speed out of the parking lot.

The CUI also reported it had analyzed the available phone records of A.J. and Harris as well as law enforcement databases and could find no connection between them. The CIU noted that records of Tammy Harris’s phone records showed a call from one of Harris’s cell phones to her on December 23, 2012 beginning at 8:09;26 p.m. and ending at 8:20:30 p.m. The shooting occurred at 8:16 p.m.

The CIU also reported that the Walgreens video had been evaluated by multiple experts to try to determine the height or gait of the gunman. The experts all concluded the video was of such poor quality that no reliable assessment was possible.

The judge, however, declined to grant the motion to dismiss and demanded that the CIU interview A.J. even though there was an active investigation into the possibility of prosecuting A.J. for Porter’s murder.

On March 3, the CIU filed objections to the order to conduct further investigation. The CIU said that the judge was “not only usurping the executive power of the prosecution, but it is conflating two very distinct issues—whether Harris is criminally responsible for the tragic shooting death of Louis Porter in front of Porter’s five-year-old son and whether the Commonwealth can and should prosecute A.J. for that shooting.”

“At bottom, the Commonwealth has thoroughly and properly investigated the first issue involving Harris, and the results of that investigation…are simple. Harris did not shoot Porter. Harris did not participate in the shooting death of Porter. In fact, shortly after Porter was shot, law enforcement had strong evidence implicating A.J. as the lone shooter,” the CIU’s objection said.

The CIU noted, “The direct consequences stemming from this Court’s actions and refusal to act are the continued incarceration of Harris for a crime he is likely innocent of and [a situation that] may potentially impact the integrity of any future prosecution.”

The objection noted that an active investigation of A.J. was ongoing since there was no statute of limitations on murder.

On March 12, 2021, Judge DeFino-Nastasi dismissed the case and Harris was released. The judge remained critical of the CIU, prompting District Attorney Larry Krasner to state: “We are required to stand for the truth. I feel that is what we’ve done in this case.”

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 4/7/2021
Last Updated: 4/7/2021
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Illegal Use of a Weapon, Conspiracy
Reported Crime Date:2012
Sentence:Life without parole
Age at the date of reported crime:23
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No