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Keith Graves

Other Philadelphia Exonerations
At 1:40 a.m. on July 28, 2001, three men entered the Ten Spot Bar in south Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They went to the back of the bar, put on ski masks, took out their guns, and ordered the customers and employees on the ground. A fourth man, sitting near the entrance, pushed the front door closed.

Two of the men herded the 16 customers and employees into the basement, ordered them to strip, and hand over cash and other valuables. One of these men placed many of the victims in a cage-like area. Several people heard this man apologize for his actions; he said he had a wife and four children and “this is what crack does to you.”

One of the other men came to the basement and grabbed one of the women. She would later say he took her upstairs where she was raped and sexually assaulted by him and another man.

The men left the bar at about 2:30 a.m., with several thousand dollars in cash and jewelry.

Officers with the Philadelphia Police Department investigated the crime. Several customers quickly identified a regular at the bar named Todd White as the inside man. Several victims also identified brothers Takay and David Taylor, in part because they entered the bar without wearing masks. A woman known in court papers as L.V. identified Takay Taylor and White as the men who sexually assaulted her.

The identity of the fourth man – the one with the wife and kids – remained a mystery.

During the initial investigation, a bartender named Dana DeLucia said that one of the robbers had a deep voice and sounded like a customer she knew as “Tino.” She said her confidence level was about 7 out of 10.

Tino was the nickname of 36-year-old Keith Graves, who lived in southern New Jersey but frequented the Ten Spot.

Separately, police interviewed William Fiorillo, who lived across the street from the bar and saw some men congregating outside the Ten Spot before the robbery. He said he saw White with this group. The police asked him if he knew any of the others. Fiorillo said he didn’t, but he had heard from several of the victims, including DeLucia, that Tino was one of the male voices. Later, Fiorillo told police that Tino was with White at the nearby bus stop.

A detective asked Fiorillo to describe Tino. Fiorillo said Tino was a light-skinned Black man with hazel eyes, about 6’2” and 250 pounds, with caramel color hair, no facial hair, and a tattoo on his right forearm. (At the time, Graves had brown eyes, brown hair, medium complexion, a mustache and a goatee, but no tattoos.)

On the night of the robbery, the police also interviewed Micheline Medica and William DeJesus. Medica, an employee, had met Graves a month earlier, when she threw him out of the bar. DeJesus was one of the managers and had known Graves for about 15 years. In these first interviews, neither Medica nor DeJesus mentioned Graves or gave a description of the fourth man that resembled Graves.

The police interviewed Medica three days later, on July 31. She identified two of the suspects but gave no indication that Graves was present.

DeJesus gave similar statements to the police. He had been seated near the front door and saw the men enter the bar. He identified two of the suspects on July 31 but also made no mention of Graves. The fourth man, he said, weighed about 200 pounds, far less than Graves.

On August 10, the police asked Medica and DeJesus to look at an array of eight photos, which included a photo of Graves, in a supposed effort to confirm that “Tino” was Graves. They each confirmed that fact and then made a tentative voice identification of Graves as one of the robbers. Medica also now said that she had seen Graves outside the bar, with White and Takay Taylor, about 20 minutes prior to the robbery.

Police arrested Graves on August 12, 2001, charging him with numerous counts of robbery, along with a charge of rape, sexual assault, and weapons possession. The other defendants faced similar charges.

Takay Taylor pleaded guilty to his charges, but he did not agree to testify against his co-defendants, who were tried together in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas in September 2002.

There was no physical or forensic evidence connecting Graves to the robbery or sexual assault. DNA test results showed that Takay Taylor was a contributor to the genetic material found on L.V.’s stomach and shirt. Graves, White, and Taylor were excluded as contributors to that genetic material.

DeLucia testified about telling the police that one of the robbers “sounded like” Graves. She also said that she wasn’t sure whether it was Graves or Takay Taylor who was “rambling on” about having a wife and kids. DeLucia also said that she saw Graves at the bar at 9 p.m., a few hours before the robbery. None of the other persons at the bar mentioned seeing Graves then.

DeJesus testified that he placed himself at the bar so he could see everyone who entered the Ten Spot. On cross-examination, he said he never saw Graves enter the bar. He said that he failed to identify Graves twice to the police because, “I didn’t recognize him at first.”

Medica testified that she heard Graves’s voice from the back of the bar, while she was in the front, lying on the floor. She said there was a lot of “noise and screaming,” and it was “difficult at that point in time to figure out exactly what was going on and who was saying what.”

She testified on cross-examination that she did not think the voice from the back of the bar was Tino’s when she first heard it, but on redirect said she recognized the voice right away.

Medica testified consistent with her statement that she saw Graves and the others outside the bar about 20 minutes before the robbery. But other witnesses undercut that account, testifying that Medica was already inside the bar. Medica then testified that she actually saw the men three hours before the robbery, when she arrived at the bar.

Medica also testified that her failure to initially identify Graves was an honest mistake. She said that if “[she] screwed up on descriptions a little bit, it’s because we were traumatized.”

During their testimony, DeJesus and Medica each acknowledged that they had made false identifications in this case, selecting persons from the lineups who were indisputably innocent.

Fiorillo worked occasionally at the bar, and he testified that he had met Graves three or four times previously. He said that just before the robbery, he had looked out his apartment window and had seen White and the three other defendants on the street below. (At a preliminary hearing, Fiorillo did not identify David Taylor as being in the group.) He also testified that he saw Graves in the entryway of a nearby store.

Vincent Rizzo, the bar’s owner, testified that he did not identify Graves as one of the robbers either by sight or by voice.

Similarly, L.V. and a bartender named Michelle Martines testified that they didn’t see Graves or recognize his voice.

White testified, claiming that he was also a victim. He also said that neither Graves nor David Taylor was present.

Graves did not testify. His attorney had filed an alibi defense prior to trial, based on statements from Graves’s sister and mother that he was home with them in New Jersey at the time of the robbery. But neither witness testified.

The jury convicted Graves, White, and David Taylor on September 24, 2002. Graves was convicted of 13 robbery counts, along with convictions for rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, and weapons possession. White and Taylor were convicted on similar charges, although Taylor’s conviction didn’t include any sexual assault charges.

At a sentencing hearing on November 13, 2002, Graves received a sentence of 41 to 105 years in prison. At the hearing, White again asserted that David Taylor and Graves weren’t present. Takay Taylor said at the hearing that his brother and Graves weren’t involved; he said a man named James Lewis had taken part in the robbery.

During a post-sentence motion for a new trial, Graves’s attorney, Marit Anderson, told Judge Teresa Sarmina that she had heard from several sources about Lewis’s involvement. In addition, the attorney said that records from the Philadelphia Housing Authority showed that Lewis lived about three miles away with his wife and four children. This appeared to match the statements made by one of the robbers. (Graves had two children but had never been married.)

Anderson also said she had told prosecutors about Lewis prior to the trial. Because the evidence was hearsay, it was not presented to the jury. After the trial, Anderson interviewed Takay Taylor and White. Both implicated Lewis. She and a colleague then wrote to prosecutors and asked them to investigate further.

Prosecutors then told Graves’s attorney that they had found a handwritten note in police files referring to Lewis and Takay Taylor. The note listed Lewis’s address and its proximity to the residences of the Taylors and White. Police had considered Lewis a suspect and submitted his fingerprints for testing against prints lifted from the crime scene. The results were inconclusive, as they were for the other four men, and there was no further investigation.

Later, after Graves’s trial, investigators interviewed Lewis in jail, where he was awaiting trial on drug charges. He confirmed the address for his family but said he wasn’t involved in the robbery. He also said at the time of the crime he was living with a friend named John White.

Based on this information, Graves moved for a new trial, which was denied by Judge Sarmina in 2003.

Graves appealed. On May 11, 2005, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the convictions for the robbery and related charges but threw out the convictions for rape and sexual assault. The case was remanded for resentencing, and on May 19, 2006, Judge Sarmina resentenced Graves to between 23½ to 65 years in prison.

On January 5, 2007, Graves filed a motion for a new trial under Pennsylvania’s Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA). The motion said Anderson had been ineffective for not trying to suppress the identifications made by DeJesus and Medica. It also said that Anderson should have called Takay Taylor to testify and didn’t adequately cross-examine Fiorillo to highlight the discrepancies between his description of Graves and Graves’s actual appearance. The motion also said that the state had withheld exculpatory evidence regarding its investigation into Lewis as an alternate suspect.

In an affidavit accompanying the petition, Anderson said that she should have tried to suppress the identifications. She also said, “I realized at trial that the description Mr. Fiorillo had given at a lineup was useful for impeachment, but I forgot to question him about it when he was on the stand and was not permitted to bring it out later.”

Judge Sarmina denied the motion on November 9, 2007. The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the ruling on May 14, 2009.

A year later, on April 8, 2010, Graves raised these same issues in a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

On February 28, 2013, Magistrate Judge Carol Wells recommended the petition be denied. She said that federal standards required deference to the state court rulings unless there was clear and convincing evidence that they were in error.

She agreed with Judge Sarmina’s ruling that the police information about Lewis wasn’t exculpatory. “The police concluded that Lewis was not a perpetrator; hence, the undisclosed information could not have been used to exculpate [Graves] or to impeach any witness,” she wrote. A federal judge adopted Wells’s recommendations on June 9, 2014.

In 2015, Graves told his attorneys that he had been approached by John White when they were at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Frackville. According to Graves, White said that he was supposed to rob the Ten Spot with Takay Taylor, Todd White, and Lewis, but he ended up taking a Xanax and falling asleep. Leonard Sosnov, one of Graves’s attorneys, interviewed White, who repeated his information.

Sosnov then filed a new PCRA petition, asserting that White’s statements were new evidence of innocence. Prior to an evidentiary hearing, White said he was concerned about possible exposure to new charges and retaliation from Lewis or his associates. At the hearing, White confirmed that he and Lewis were roommates in 2001 but said the rest of his interview with Sosnov was false.

On June 16, 2017, Judge Sarmina dismissed the petition as untimely, because Graves had known about Lewis and White for years. (Affirming Judge Sarmina’s ruling, the Pennsylvania Superior Court said, “The burden was on Graves to establish his due diligence in discovering this information, and there is simply no evidence of any diligence whatsoever from 2003 until 2015, when White approached Graves in prison.”)

Two weeks after her ruling, Judge Sarmina emailed the Conviction Integrity (CIU) of the Philadelphia County District Attorney’s Office and urged it to reinvestigate the case. Her decision notwithstanding, she wrote, “that does not mean that perhaps [Graves] is not guilty.

Five years later, the CIU began a reinvestigation, combing through police and prosecutorial records. It concluded there was strong evidence supporting Lewis’s role in the robbery and little to suggest Grave’s involvement.

The CIU noted that Lewis lived near White and the Taylors, while Graves lived in New Jersey. It also said there was no evidence that Graves had ever associated with his co-defendants. There were also the statements of White and Taylor, along with the problems with the witness identifications.

On January 4, 2024, CIU prosecutors interviewed Lewis at SCI Dallas. Asked whether he knew Graves, Lewis said he had met Graves once at a prison in Philadelphia. Lewis said he knew about the robbery at the Ten Spot. According to the CIU, Lewis was asked whether Graves was present during the robbery. Lewis hesitated, concerned about incriminating himself. The CIU attorneys gave him a letter that said he would not be prosecuted for any statements he made. Without looking at or signing the letter, Lewis stated, “I know Tino wasn’t there because I was there.”

Lewis, whom the prosecutors noted had a deep voice, then gave a detailed account of the robbery, and the roles that he, Todd White and Lewis played. His account also included no mention of David Taylor. (The CIU said it is investigating his claim of innocence.) Lewis said he was sorry for the time Graves had spent in prison, and he asked the prosecutors to apologize to Graves on his behalf.

The CIU gave this information to Graves’s attorneys, including David Rudovsky, who filed a new PCRA petition on January 23, 2024. In its response on April 4, 2024, prosecutors asked the court to vacate Graves’s convictions and then to dismiss his charges. The response said that Lewis’s confession was new evidence of innocence and that the state “would not rely on the evidence used at trial to convict Graves today.”

Judge Scott DiClaudio granted the motions on May 22, 2024, and Graves was freed.

Nehemiah Young-Graves had only ever seen his father in prison. He told the Philadelphia Inquirer: “Seeing my dad in the facility my entire life, and only really being able to hug him when I was little, it’s like a faint memory in my head. So this is something big.”

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 6/19/2024
Last Updated: 6/19/2024
Most Serious Crime:Robbery
Additional Convictions:Rape, Sexual Assault, Weapon Possession or Sale, Conspiracy
Reported Crime Date:2001
Sentence:41 to 105 years
Age at the date of reported crime:36
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No