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Jamaal Simmons

Exonerations involving Detective Philip Nordo
On July 25, 2009, 46-year-old Rodney Barnes, a Philadelphia Housing Authority carpenter, was shot in the back of the head as he unloaded his tools for work at the Raymond Rosen Manor public housing complex in the 2300 block of Norris Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Barnes, who had been with the housing authority for just six months, was the father of four and a minister at Mount Airy Church of God in Christ. Police suspected the shooting was a case of mistaken identity that could have been connected to a shooting a day earlier at the complex.

Despite a $10,000 reward, the case was still unsolved on August 5, 2009 when Barnes died of his wound.

On September 1, 2009, 26-year-old Jamaal Simmons, described as a street-corner rapper, was arrested and charged with Barnes’s murder.

He went to trial in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas in January 2012. Detective Philip Nordo testified that a rival rapper, Richard Taylor, said that he was the intended target and that Barnes was shot by mistake. Nordo said that Taylor said Simmons was driving a van that parked near 23rd and Norris Streets. A gunman emerged from the passenger side and fired a gun, striking Barnes.

When Taylor was called to testify, however, he recanted his statement. He said it was false and that Detective Nordo had intimidated and threatened him to identify Simmons. Taylor said that the statement contained information that he never provided, and that he had signed it so he could go home. The prosecution then was allowed to read Taylor’s statement to the jury to impeach his recantation.

On January 13, 2012, the jury convicted Simmons of third-degree murder, conspiracy, and aggravated assault. He was sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison.

On June 2016, Gerald Camp was convicted in Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas of illegal possession of firearm and possession of a firearm with an obliterated serial number. The conviction was based on the testimony of Detective Nordo who said an informant named Rhaheem Friend had provided the tip that Camp was in possession of the weapon.

In early 2017, while Camp was awaiting sentencing, his defense attorney subpoenaed the records of prison phone calls of Friend. An examination of the calls showed that Friend and Nordo were communicating frequently. Nordo promised he would intervene in another criminal case against Friend. Nordo and Friend also made comments suggesting they had a sexual relationship. Prison records also showed that Nordo had deposited at least $400 into Friend’s prison commissary account.

After Camp’s lawyer presented this evidence to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, the prosecution re-investigated the case and agreed to seek to vacate Camp’s conviction on April 11, 2017.

In November 2017, Detective Nordo was suspended with intent to dismiss after an investigation showed he paid a witness in another case. A Philadelphia police spokesman said Nordo was the subject of a criminal investigation and that federal authorities were involved as well.

On December 6, 2018, following an investigation by the Philadelphia County District Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit, the prosecution asked that Simmons’s convictions be vacated and the charges dismissed. Simmons then was released from prison. The hearing was ordered sealed from public view.

In January 2019, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News reported that several weeks before the dismissal, Taylor said he had been interviewed by prosecutors, including Patricia Cummings, the head of the Conviction Integrity Unit. Taylor reported that he told the prosecutors that before signing the statement, he had been held in the homicide unit for more than a day, and that Nordo had pressured him to falsely implicate Simmons.

​​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.

In April 2019, Simmons filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking compensation from the city of Philadelphia.

Also in April 2019, the Conviction Integrity Unit agreed to vacate and dismniss a third Nordo-related conviction—the 2012 conviction of James Frazier, who was serving a sentence of life without parole for a double murder. Frazier filed a lawsuit claiming Nordo used the threat of sexual assault to coerce a false confession to the murders.

In May 2019, Cummings dismissed the 2016 murder conviction of Sherman McCoy, who falsely confessed during an interrogation by Nordo.

In 2021, the CIU obtained a dismissal of the 2015 murder conviction of Arkel Garcia, who had been sentenced to life in prison without parole after Nordo obtained a false confession from Garcia.

In April 2022, the CIU dismissed another prosecution handled by Nordo. The conviction of Rafiq Dixon, who had been convicted of a 2011 murder and sentenced to life in prison, was vacated and the case was dismissed.

In December 2022, Nordo was sentenced to 24 1/2 to 49 years in prison.

By August 2023, the number of Nordo-involved exonerations totalled nine, including Donta Regustors, Neftali Velasquez, and Marvin Hill.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/22/2019
Last Updated: 9/1/2023
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Assault, Conspiracy
Reported Crime Date:2009
Sentence:15 to 30 years
Age at the date of reported crime:26
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No