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David Sparks

Other Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania Exonerations
At about 11:35 p.m. on September 4, 2006, which was Labor Day, 19-year-old Gary Hall was shot at the corner of 18th and Wingohocking Streets in the Nicetown neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Several friends, including Malik Fuggs, took Hall to Albert Einstein Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 11.44 p.m.

The shooting occurred after a block party, and numerous people called 911 to report the incident. One of the callers was 16-year-old David Sparks, who told the dispatchers to hurry, because a man had been shot and “he might be dying.”

Officers, including Lieutenant Aisha Perry, quickly arrived at the scene. Perry would later tell other investigators that she recognized a man named Barry McShore, who told her that two brothers shot Hall over “some weed and a crap game.”

Later, Perry said, as the police began detaining juveniles for curfew violations, McShore said, “That’s the Sparks boy right there.” Perry said she asked McShore if Sparks was one of the shooters. “No, he told me that two brothers killed Gary,” Perry said in a report.

Karen Reddy told the police that her daughter, 14-year-old Kalishea Reddy, and her niece, 12-year-old Markita Reddy, saw the shooting. Detectives interviewed the two cousins on the morning of September 5, 2006.

Kalishea told the police that she witnessed an argument between Hall and Marquis Lawrence outside a Chinese restaurant at the corner of 18th and Wingohocking. She said that as Hall rode off on a bicycle, Sparks came off the sidewalk and started shooting. Kalishea said that a man named Ivan Simmons, who was Lawrence’s brother, was nearby at the time of the shooting. Police asked her if anyone else fired a gun at Hall. Kalishea answered, “My cousin, Markita, said Ivan did.” Kalishea also identified several other young men being present, including Nicholas Walker.

In her statement to police, Markita said that just before the shooting, Hall had been arguing with a young man in a brown shirt, whom she later identified from a photo array as Lawrence. After the argument, Markita said, a “boy in a white T-shirt” stepped into the street and shot Hall as Hall rode off. From a separate array, she selected a photo of Sparks and said, “He is the guy that was with the guy in the brown shirt, and the guy that shot Gary. I recognize him by his eyes and nose.” The police did not ask Markita about her cousin’s statement regarding Simmons.

McShore was interviewed later that morning. According to the statement he signed, McShore said, “I saw one of the guys that they locked up for curfew and told the lieutenant that [he] was the one that shot Gary.” He said he didn’t know the shooter’s name and also said that he might have mentioned the last name Sparks.

Sparks was arrested on September 5, 2006, and charged with murder and several weapons violations.

After Sparks’s arrest, the police sought to interview Simmons and Lawrence. Their attorneys advised them to not make any statements, and no interview was conducted.

Simmons was shot to death on November 30, 2006, just a few blocks from the Hall shooting. He was taken to the hospital in critical condition but was unable to give a statement to police before he died.

At a preliminary hearing on January 31, 2007, Kalishea testified about the Hall shooting, and the judge ruled there was sufficient evidence against Sparks to proceed to trial. Although McShore did not testify, he addressed the court and said: “I just want to say that we got two young—Gary died in front of my door. He [is] related to my people. Then you got [David Sparks] up in the jailhouse for something and then the person who so-called killed Gary, he is dead. But no one wants to mention that.”

Sparks chose a bench trial, which began on April 28, 2008, in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas before Judge Sheila Woods-Skipper. No physical evidence connected Sparks to the shooting. The parties stipulated that Sparks was excluded as a contributor to DNA found on a gun holster recovered from the crime scene. There was no evidence that the holster was related to the weapon used in the shooting.

Kalishea testified that Sparks shot Hall as Hall rode away after the argument with Lawrence. She identified Sparks as the shooter but also said she only saw the shooter’s back. She said she heard nine or 10 shots. She testified that she saw “sparks” but did not see a gun in Sparks’s hands.

Kalishea testified that the person who shot Hall came from between two parked cars and that she did not see Sparks in that location because he was on the sidewalk. She said someone else must have been shooting at Hall, although it was not clear if she meant another shooter or an additional shooter.

Kalishea said she saw Simmons across the street from the Chinese restaurant at the time of the shooting but did not see him doing anything.

When the shooting started, Kalishea testified, she was outside the restaurant, but quickly ran inside, and then pulled Markita inside as well. The restaurant’s surveillance video, which was played at the trial, showed this activity.

On cross-examination, Kalishea was asked about the part of her statement where she said Markita had told her that Ivan Simmons was the shooter. She said that was wrong. Another cousin had told her that.

Markita’s testimony differed substantially from her statement to police. She testified that Sparks was involved in the argument between Lawrence and Hall. Lawrence was just standing there, she said, and Sparks came from across the street and began shooting.

The surveillance video had captured the argument between Hall and Lawrence, contradicting Markita’s account of the events. Markita then testified that Sparks wasn’t involved in the argument. Although she made an in-court identification of Sparks, Markita also testified that she never saw the shooter’s face, only his back. Later, she testified that “you could see the side of his face.” She testified on direct examination that she did not see Sparks with a gun. On cross-examination, she said she saw a weapon.

McShore did not voluntarily appear in court and had to be arrested on a bench warrant. He testified that he did not identify Sparks to Lieutenant Perry and did not tell police that he saw Sparks shoot Hall. He said he signed the statement that the police wrote out so he could go home. (That statement was read into the record.) He said the police held him at the station for a long time, and he was hungry and thirsty. “I didn’t give no statement,” he said. “They wrote it down and made me sign the papers. Those are not my own words.”

McShore testified that he was on a porch a half block from his house when he heard the gunshots. He ran to his home, retrieved a gun, and asked people who shot Hall. He testified on cross-examination that he didn’t see the shooter. “No, everyone had dispersed,” he said. “All you saw was smoke in the air like something was burnt.”

Perry testified about the police response to the shooting and her encounter with McShore, who she said told her he knew the identity of the shooter. She testified that McShore identified Sparks as the shooter as Sparks was being detained for a curfew violation. This was at odds with her written statement, where she said that McShore told her at that time that two brothers killed Hall.

Kenneth Lay, the supervisor of the police department’s Firearm Laboratory, testified that nine .40-caliber cartridge casings found at the crime scene were consistent with having been fired from the same weapon. Lay also testified that two bullet fragments recovered from the scene were consistent with .40-caliber bullets. He said the “most-likely scenario” was that a single weapon was used.

Dr. Gregory McDonald, an assistant medical examiner, testified that Hall’s death had been ruled a homicide. On cross-examination, a section of the autopsy report was read. It said: “Gary got into an argument with a boy on a bike. Gary was walking away when the boy’s brother came up behind Gary and shot him.”

Sparks did not testify. Latisha Lowery, his girlfriend at the time, testified that she was present at the time of the shooting—she could be seen in the video—and that Simmons shot Hall.

Although Judge Woods-Skipper said, “I do agree with Counsel that there were some inconsistencies in the testimony of the young ladies who testified,” she convicted Sparks on May 1, 2008, of first-degree murder and three weapons violations and later sentenced him to life in prison without parole.

On June 2, 2009, Sparks filed a pro se petition under Pennsylvania’s Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA), asserting that his trial attorney had been ineffective for failing to interview several potential witnesses. It was later amended to include a claim that his sentence of life without parole was illegal, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that mandatory sentencing of life without parole for juvenile offenders violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. (That ruling did not address whether the ban should be applied retroactively.)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the conviction on February 20, 2014.

Now represented by the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, Sparks filed a second PCRA petition on November 10, 2014, that was amended in early 2015. The petition included a claim from a man who said Sparks was next to him at the time of the murder and didn’t shoot Hall. It also included claims from two persons who said Kalishea and Markita either didn’t see the shooting or that they had testified falsely about what they saw.

A lower court dismissed the petition as untimely on May 13, 2015. Sparks appealed, and the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed that ruling on March 21, 2016.

While the appeal was pending, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the ban on mandatory life sentences without parole should be applied retroactively. Sparks filed a third PCRA petition, seeking relief on his sentence. On November 4, 2019, he was resentenced to 20 years to life in prison.

In November 2021, Markita Reddy recanted her testimony. She said she named Sparks because Kalishea said he was the shooter, and she assumed her older cousin saw what happened. Markita said she did not see who shot Hall but felt pressure from people in the neighborhood to “cooperate.”

In her sworn statement, Markita said a man in a black or dark-colored hooded sweatshirt shot Hall. She could not see his face. (Sparks can be seen on the surveillance video wearing a white T-shirt and tan pants.)

Around this time, Kalishea recanted to Sparks’s mother. She said she did not see Sparks fire a gun and said that people in the neighborhood pressured her to testify against him. She did not give a formal statement to Sparks’s legal team.

In 2022, the Philadelphia County District Attorney’s Office provided Sparks’s attorneys with the Philadelphia Police Department’s file on the Simmons murder and its own file for the Hall murder. Initially, it could not locate the PPD’s Hall file. Documents from the Simmons file, along with the recantations from Markita and Kalishea, formed the basis for a new PCRA petition, filed on June 9, 2022.

The Simmons file contained numerous leads connecting the two murders with other shootings involving the friends and family of Hall and Simmons.

For example, the file said that detectives needed to interview Sparks’s mother, because she “keeps arguing with Ivan Simmons family about David Sparks being arrested for Gary Hall murder.”

As part of the investigation into Simmons’s death, the police interviewed a man named Socrates Clark, who said he had been shot by Walker. Clark told police, “I think he shot me because a friend of his got killed. His friend [Simmons] got killed for shooting my cousin, and that is why he shot me.” When asked the name of his cousin who was killed, Clark said, “Gary Hall. He was killed in September.” Clark identified Simmons as the person who was shot in retaliation for Hall’s murder.

A note in the Simmons file said he and his brother might be involved in the shooting death of Larres Curry. The detective’s note was based on a conversation with Perry, who said that Lawrence was involved in Curry’s death, and “His LITTLE brother killed Gary Hall, 18th + Wingo.” (Perry was convicted of theft charges on June 12, 2014, and sentenced to between 6 and 23 months in prison.)

None of this information was given to Sparks’s trial attorney, the petition said. The prosecutor also said the police didn’t provide him with these files.

“It is clear from the totality of this suppressed evidence that Ivan Simmons, not David Sparks, killed Gary Hall,” the petition said. “Furthermore, it is also painfully apparent that the Philadelphia Police Homicide Division knew that Simmons killed Hall and that its members allowed Sparks to be wrongly convicted of Hall’s murder without ever uttering a word of what they knew.”

After the petition was filed, the district attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unity began its own review, locating the Hall file as well as files from related shootings, including the Curry case, and turning them over to Sparks’s attorneys, Nilam Sanghvi, with the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, and James Figorski, with the Dechert law firm.

Based on these disclosures, Sparks amended his petition three more times, asserting additional undisclosed evidence pointing to Simmons as Hall’s killer.
  • Police compared the casings found at the Curry crime scene with those from the Hall shooting. The police lab wrote in a report on March 29, 2023, that the casings “were fired from the same firearm.” The 2023 report referenced a report from 2008, that compared the casings from the two shootings and said they were from the same weapon. “Had the Commonwealth disclosed to Sparks that Simmons was the suspect in the Curry murder, the testing performed in 2023 would have taken place in 2007, and the link between the murders would have been proven then,” the petition said.
  • On July 13, 2007, police arrested Walker for the murder of Hasain Harrison on June 4, 2007. Walker said Harrison had put out a contract on him and Simmons, who by then was dead. Walker said, “This happened after Ivan killed Gary.”
  • A police chart of suspected gang members in the Nicetown area included pictures of Hall and Malik Fuggs, Hall’s friend and one of the men who took him to the hospital. Next to Fuggs’s photo were the words, “Killed Simmons.”
“Philadelphia Police knew Ivan Simmons murdered Gary Hall and that this murder set off a series of retaliatory events, none of which involved Sparks or his family,” the petition said. “Police knew but could not prove that Malik Fuggs killed Simmons in retaliation, sparking an even greater war in the neighborhood. All of this information should have been provided to Sparks’s attorney, or more appropriately should have resulted in a dismissal of charges by the Commonwealth.”

In its response, dated July 24, 2023, attorneys with the CIU said the state had failed to disclose exculpatory evidence that pointed to Simmons as the person who shot Hall. The response noted that detectives failed to ask Walker a single follow-up question about his statement that Simmons killed Hall. “Sparks’ defense could have used Walker’s statement to illustrate the Commonwealth’s tunnel vision,” the response said.

Similarly, the failure to disclose Simmons’s involvement in the Curry murder and the relationship between the weapons used, robbed Sparks’s attorney of investigative leads that could have allowed an analysis of the casings prior to trial.

The response noted that the state’s case was a weak one. No physical evidence connected Sparks to the crime. The Reddy cousins were severely impeached, the response said, and there was evidence that McShore told police he didn’t see the shooting.

“Coupled with the information that was presented at trial—that other witnesses put Simmons at the scene of Hall’s murder, and, unlike Sparks, Simmons fled the scene of the murder—the undisclosed information is not only material, but demonstrates that Simmons had means, motive, and opportunity to commit the murder,” the response said. “The Commonwealth has no confidence in the verdict.”

On November 6, 2023, Judge Scott DiClaudio granted the petition, vacating Sparks’s conviction. The state then dismissed the charges. Sparks was released from prison that day. “This just shows the power of finally getting information from those homicide files,” Sanghvi told thePhiladelphia Inquirer. “It really proved what David has always said, what the neighborhood has always said, was the truth.”

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 11/27/2023
Last Updated: 11/27/2023
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Weapon Possession or Sale
Reported Crime Date:2006
Sentence:Life without parole
Age at the date of reported crime:16
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No