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Donta Regustors

Exonerations involving Detective Philip Nordo
At about 4 a.m. on August 28, 2010, 18-year-old Charles Britten and 30-year-old Edward Humphrey were standing together on the sidewalk on West Silver Street near 26th Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Nearby, on 26th Street, 26-year-old Jonathan Wilson was sitting in his parked car, making phone calls.

Shortly thereafter, two men on bicycles rode by on 26th Street and opened fire with handguns. Britten and Humphrey ducked behind parked cars and Britten shot back with a .380-caliber pistol. The gunmen rode off. Britten and Humphrey were uninjured, but Wilson was shot once in the back. He drove off, but soon lost control and crashed into a pole on Sterner Street, west of 26th Street. He was pronounced dead at Temple hospital at 4:42 a.m.

Police collected 17 nine-millimeter shell casings, one nine-millimeter live round, one .380-caliber shell casing, and one spent bullet. Firearms analysis later indicated that the nine-millimeter casings came from two different weapons and the .380-caliber shell came from a third weapon.

About a block and a half northeast, at 25th and Somerset Streets, police recovered seven .380-caliber shell casings, six nine-millimeter casings and one nine-millimeter live round. Firearms analysis would later indicate the nine-millimeter casings were fired by one of the nine-millimeter guns in the other shooting. The .380-caliber cases bore insufficient markings for comparison.

No guns were ever recovered that could be linked to the casings.

At 6:20 a.m., detectives received an anonymous telephone call that said the gunman who shot Wilson was named “Dante,” and lived in a home with an enclosed porch on 25th Street near Somerset Street. At 6:35 a.m., another call came in, and the caller said he had just called. The caller said that the shooting was the result of a dispute between “Dante” and two other men. The caller identified them as Britten and “Beans” and said that two weeks earlier an argument involving the three at a playground ended with a shootout. The caller said that the following day, “Dante” had tried to shoot Britten and “Beans,” but shot two men named “George” and “John-John” instead.

Police determined that this shooting referred to the shooting of Kenneth Richardson and John Jones on August 16, 2010. Both men had survived, but both were unable to describe the gunman.

Police conducted firearms analysis on shell casings recovered in the shooting of Richardson and Jones and concluded that the casings were fired by the other nine-millimeter weapon used in the shooting of Wilson.

On October 10, 2010, Philadelphia police Detective Ronald Dove interviewed Jones. According to the statement, Jones said the shooters were “Donte” and “Kizzy.” Jones said that Britten told him that the word on the street was that “Donte” had killed Wilson. Jones reviewed photographs on a police computer and identified a photograph of 21-year-old Donta Regusters as “Donte.” Jones would later deny that he signed his statement and say his statement was false.

On October 12, 2010, Detective Philip Nordo took Britten out of the Philadelphia County Jail where he was being held after being arrested on October 7 on a drug charge. At the time, Britten was facing multiple charges and had a criminal history that made him ineligible to obtain a gun license. He also was prohibited because he was too young.

What happened during this interview would be disputed. Nordo said that Britten told him he had fired the .380-caliber gun several times during the shooting that killed Wilson. Subsequently, Nordo said Britten gave a statement saying that he and Humphrey were on the street when “Donte” and “Kizzy” rode by and opened fire. Humphrey identified a photograph of Regusters as “Donte” and a photograph of Kyle Pelzer as “Kizzy.”

On October 13, 2010, Detective Nordo interviewed Humphrey, who was living in a drug treatment facility and under state supervision as the result of a robbery conviction for which had been sentenced to five to 10 years in prison. Nordo had Humphrey brought to the station, and, according to Nordo, he eventually gave a statement identifying Regusters and Pelzer as the gunmen. Humphrey’s statement differed from Britten’s statement. Humphrey’s statement included other details, such as that there were three others with Regusters, that Regusters was on a bike while Pelzer was on foot, and that he had known Regusters for about three years but did not know Pelzer.

Pelzer and Regusters were arrested on November 4, 2010. They were charged with the non-fatal shootings of Richardson and Jones as well as the shooting that killed Wilson. The charges included murder, attempted murder, aggravated assault, conspiracy to commit murder, and criminal possession of an instrument of a crime.

In March 2012, Regusters and Pelzer went to trial together in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas for both shootings. By that time Britten was dead—shot to death—so the prosecution introduced the testimony he had given at a preliminary hearing. In that testimony, Britten had denied knowing who killed Wilson. He had denied being with Humphrey at the time of the shooting, saying he was further down the street at his aunt’s home.

Britten had admitted making the statement to Nordo, but had said the answers were all lies. He had testified that Nordo had promised that he would not be charged for firing the .380-caliber pistol.

Humphrey testified at the trial that he and two others, neither of them Britten, were in front of his home on West Silver Street when he heard gunshots down the street. He said he ran into his home and remained there until the gunfire stopped. “I didn’t see who was firing the shots. I don’t know how many shooters,” Humphrey testified.

Like Britten, Humphrey said his previous statement was false and the result of police coercion. He said he was kept in a room for six hours before he was interviewed by Nordo. He said he was “getting interrogated and telling homicide detectives over and over I don’t know what is going on—until I started getting threatened [by] them asking me and me staying there two or three days. I didn’t get fed.” Humphrey subsequently admitted he actually was there for “close to a day.”

Humphrey said Detective Nordo promised to get him out of the treatment center and to “set me up with a security job.”

During cross-examination, Pelzer’s defense attorney asked, “You have an armed robbery conviction. How are they hooking you up with a security job?”

“I have no idea,” Humphrey replied. “That is the statement that come out [sic] of his mouth.”

Humphrey testified that the description of “Donte” in his statement was provided by Nordo and that the photo of Regusters he selected was “heavily suggested” by police. Humphrey did not make an in-court identification of Regusters.

When the prosecutor suggested that during a pre-trial meeting with Humphrey, Humphrey had mentioned a “no snitching code,” Humphrey responded, “I didn’t tell you that I was familiar with the code. We had a conversation that you brought up. I didn’t tell you anything about that.”

To rebut the recantations by Britten and Humphrey and allow their statements to be admitted into evidence, Detective Nordo was called to testify. He said he transcribed both interviews as they happened and word for word. There was no electronic recording of either interview. Nordo said Britten and Humphrey refused to give consent for such recording, although there was no record of such refusals.

Nordo denied threatening Britten or making him any promises. “There was [sic] no threats or promises made. No,” Nordo said. He did admit that he told Britten it was a “distinct possibility” he could be charged with Wilson’s murder. “I made it clear that the district attorney reviewing this, absolutely, there is a possibility you can be charged with any crime,” Nordo testified.

Nordo denied making any threats or promises to Humphrey and denied that he told Humphrey whose photographs to pick out prior to the identification of Pelzer and Regusters.

Asked by the prosecution if it was common for witnesses to “go south” after giving a statement, later recanting in court, Nordo said it was “Fairly common.”

“Does it happen in almost every single shooting we do in Homicide?” the prosecutor asked.

“It’s rare that it don’t [sic] happen. Let’s put it that way,” Nordo said.

On April 2, 2012, the jury acquitted Regusters of the shooting of Richardson and Jones, but convicted him of the murder of Wilson, the attempted murders and aggravated assault of Britten and Humphrey, conspiracy to commit murder, and criminal possession of a firearm. Pelzer was acquitted of all charges. Regusters was sentenced to life in prison.

In November 2013, the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld his convictions and sentence.

That same month, Detective Dove was fired by the police department for failing to cooperate in an investigation of his girlfriend, Erica Sanchez, who had been charged with the fatal stabbing of her ex-boyfriend.

In November 2014, Regusters filed a post-conviction relief act petition seeking a new trial on an array of grounds, including that Dove had corrupted the case against him. That petition was dismissed, and the dismissal was upheld on appeal in February 2017.

Two months later, in April 2017, Dove was sentenced to 30 days in jail after pleading guilty to helping Sanchez elude arrest and flee from Philadelphia to a hotel room in Rochester, New York. Sanchez ultimately pled guilty to third-degree murder and was sentenced to five to 10 years in prison.

In November 2017, Nordo was suspended with intent to dismiss after an investigation showed he paid a witness in another case.

In February 2019, Nordo was indicted on charges of sexually assaulting witnesses and suspects, including once in an interrogation room. (On June 1, 2022, a jury convicted him on two assault charges​, as well as ​obstruction of justice and official oppression, and he was sentenced to 24 ½ to 49 years in prison.)

After Nordo’s indictment, the Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) of the Philadelphia County District Attorney’s Office began reviewing his cases.

On July 16, 2021, attorney Craig Cooley filed another post-conviction relief act petition on behalf of Regusters based on misconduct by Nordo in his and other cases.

In November 2022, the CIU interviewed Humphrey, and he reiterated his prior denial of having identified Regusters and Pelzer. He said that Nordo had promised him a security job and placement in a witness protection program. He said Nordo threatened to “max out” Humphrey’s probation if he did not cooperate.

On June 29, 2023, CIU attorney Rebecca McDonald filed a response to Regusters’s petition, agreeing that Regusters’s conviction should be vacated both because the prosecution had not disclosed that Nordo had been accused of misconduct in other cases and because Nordo had testified falsely at Regusters’s trial.

On August 18, 2023, Court of Common Pleas Judge Glenn Bronson vacated Regusters’s conviction and granted a prosecution motion to dismiss the case.

Michael Garmisa, CIU Supervisor, said, “Following a thorough and comprehensive investigation by the Conviction Integrity Unit, the court today delivered a fair and appropriate response…Once again, Philip Nordo’s misconduct and violence crimes—which went unchecked for too long by police and prosecutors—is [sic] responsible for retraumatizing a grieving family and for violating a criminal defendant’s constitutional rights. This case—along with the other overturned convictions tied to Detective Nordo—underscore the urgency of meaningful accountability within police departments and prosecutor’s offices.”

Regusters was released more than 11 years from the date of his conviction.

Investigations into Nordo’s misconduct have led to the exonerations of eight other men: Gerald Camp, Rafiq Dixon, James Frazier, Marvin Hill, Arkel Garcia, Sherman McCoy, Jamaal Simmons, and Neftali Velasquez.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 9/5/2023
Last Updated: 9/5/2023
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Attempted Murder, Assault, Weapon Possession or Sale, Conspiracy
Reported Crime Date:2010
Age at the date of reported crime:21
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No