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Convicted of first-degree murder in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1947, William S. “Willie” Green was granted a full pardon ten years later after witnesses admitted to falsely identifying Green as the culprit.
Early in the morning of November 4, 1946, William Blount, the night watchman for the Standard Theatre in South Philadelphia, apprehended a man who had broken into the building. While Blount was calling the police from a nearby call box, his captive shot him twice and ran off. Blount died almost immediately.
Police arrested William S. Green, a 35-year-old Navy veteran, and charged him with the murder of William Blount. Green had been at the Standard Theatre the night of the murder, but claimed to have left several hours before the murder occurred and had been at home in bed at the time of the shooting. Several witnesses, however, placed Green, a young black man, at the scene of the crime, and on that basis, the Court of Oyer and Terminer of Philadelphia County found him guilty of murder in the first degree. Green was sentenced to life imprisonment in April 1947.
Green made several unsuccessful appeals before attorney Rose Kotzin took over his representation in January 1956. Kotzin had Green take a lie detector test, which he passed convincingly. A lie detector test was then administered to James Hargett, a purported witness who had identified Green at the trial. Hargett failed the test, and subsequently admitted to having given false testimony. Hargett claimed that another witness, Alonzo Suggs, had bribed him to testify against Green. In fact, Hargett admitted that he was not even at the scene of the crime.
Hargett’s recantation of his testimony was brought to the attention of the District Attorney, who launched an investigation of his own. Alonzo Suggs, after questioning by the District Attorney, was found to have made many contradictory statements and was, as such, deemed unreliable. The District Attorney called upon the courts to take action to reopen the case. Green filed a petition for a new trial, which the Supreme Court granted and remanded to the trial court. The trial court, however, disregarded the Supreme Court’s ruling and refused to grant Green a new trial.
Having exhausted his options in the courts, Green applied for a pardon. A letter from nationally known lie detector expert Richard O. Arthur, who assured the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons of Green’s innocence, corroborated Green’s claims in his pardon application. The Board granted Green’s request, and on April 18, 1957, Green was pardoned by Governor George M. Leader and released from the Eastern State Penitentiary.
- Researched by Sarah Kull
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.