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Curtis Kingwood

Exonerations involving Detective Philip Nordo
At about 7:30 p.m. on September 11, 2011, 22-year-old Christopher Lee and two others, Dontay Chestnut and Kenneth Perry were shooting dice near the intersection of Jefferson and Lindenwood Streets in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania when two men approached.

One drew a handgun and announced, “You know what time it is.” Chestnut and Perry turned and fled. Lee, however, was shot once in the chest and died.

Chestnut and Perry were interviewed by Philadelphia police detectives Philip Nordo and Ohmarr Jenkins. Both gave descriptions of the two men, and both said that while they had not seen the two men before, they believed they would recognize them if they saw them again.

A month later, on October 11, 2011, police arrested Samuel Hutson on unrelated domestic assault charges. During a search of his residence, police seized three handguns, one of which was a .25-caliber pistol, as well as rounds of ammunition.

Nearly a year later, on August 6, 2012, detectives were informed that a firearms analyst had concluded that an expended shell casing recovered from the scene of the shooting had been fired by one of the guns seized from Hutson’s residence.

On October 24, 2012, Nordo and Jenkins interviewed Hutson, who said he had purchased the gun from Theodore “Two Fingers Ted” Coles about three weeks before Hutson was arrested.

After interviewing Coles on October 26, the detectives focused on 22-year-old Curtis Kingwood. No report was made of the interview.

At 11:50 p.m. on November 14, 2012, Kingwood was detained and taken to the homicide unit. He arrived just after midnight on November 15, 2012. He was interrogated over the next nearly two days by Nordo and Jenkins, and ultimately signed a written confession after 43 hours in custody. According to the statement, Kingwood said he and 22-year-old Faheem Davis had committed the crime. Davis, according to the statement, was the gunman.

After the detectives consulted with the Philadelphia County District Attorney’s Office, Kingwood was released without being charged.

On December 5, 2012, Jenkins and another detective interviewed Coles. During this interview, Coles said he picked the gun up off the ground after finding it under the rear fender of a parked car in the 3600 block of Camac Street. He said that after he sold the gun to Hutson, he returned to Camac Street where he saw a man he knew as “Curt-Curt” looking under the car.

During the interview, Jenkins showed Coles a photograph of Kingwood, and Coles confirmed that was the person he saw looking under the car.

On January 23, 2013, Detective Nordo showed photographic lineups containing Kingwood and Davis to Chestnut. Chestnut identified them as the men who robbed the dice game and shot Lee. On February 2, 2013, Perry viewed the photographic lineups and selected Kingwood and Davis.

Davis was arrested on February 5, 2013. Kingwood was arrested on February 6. Both were charged with second-degree murder, robbery, carrying a weapon in public, conspiracy, and possession of an instrument of a crime.

Prior to trial, Kingwood filed a motion to suppress his statement, claiming that he was psychologically and physically coerced to sign a false confession. During the hearing in June 2014, Detective Jenkins provided a timeline of how the statement was obtained, referring to a prepared narrative. The narrative contained nothing about any involvement by Nordo.

Jenkins said that at 5 p.m. on November 15, 17 hours after Kingwood was put into the interrogation room, Kingwood was read his Miranda warnings. He denied any knowledge of the crime.

At 6:30 p.m., Jenkins said Kingwood told him that Chaney Hasan gave Kingwood the gun and asked Kingwood to “put it up.” Kingwood again denied involvement in the crime. Jenkins said that at 9 p.m. he tried to get more information about Hasan, but Kingwood became evasive.

At 11:45 a.m. on November 16—about 36 hours after Kingwood was detained—Jenkins said Kingwood was told the information about Hasan was false. At that point, Jenkins said Kingwood gave a different account, saying that he had been picked up and driven to the area of the shooting by “Heem” and another unknown male. Then, at 4:45 p.m., Jenkins said King admitted “to his entire involvement” in the crime.

When asked during the hearing what he did when Kingwood identified Hasan, Jenkins said he began to “research that information and to see if it’s true, see if that name had come up in the investigation, which it did not.”

Asked if he was able to determine if there was a Chaney Hasan, Jenkins said, “I attempted, but I was unsuccessful.”

The motion to suppress was denied after the prosecution argued that much of the time Kingwood spent was due to overnight hours, Jenkins’s court responsibilities, and Kingwood’s providing false information that needed to be investigated.

In July 2014, Kingwood and Davis went to trial in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. The prosecution’s case relied on Kingwood’s statement and the identifications of both men by Chestnut and Perry. By the time of trial, Coles had recanted, denying that he ever implicated Kingwood. Nordo was not called as a witness.

The defense pointed out that at the time of the crime, Chestnut and Perry described the gunman as about 5’5” tall and husky, but Davis was 5’9” and weighed 160 pounds. Kingwood, who Chestnut and Perry said was not the gunman, was 5’5” and 175 pounds.

Jenkins testified about obtaining the statement from Kingwood and his investigation of Chaney Hasan. “He begins to tell me about another person who had given him a gun,” Jenkins said. “He actually gave me a real name. So, based on that name, I began to do some research to see if this person even existed, reviewed my own information to see if this person had [come] up in the investigation, which they had not….I couldn’t find this person anywhere in our database and his name was nowhere in our investigation.”

Police officer Robert Stott, a firearms analyst, testified that in September 2012, the Integrated Ballistics Identification System generated a report indicating that the .25-caliber pistol that had been recovered from Hutson’s residence had possibly fired a shell casing and expended bullet recovered from Lee’s body. Stott testified that he and other examiners involved in the case concluded that the expended shell and the bullet had been fired by the .25-caliber pistol. He said the conclusion was to a “reasonable degree of scientific certainty.”

On August 4, 2014, Kingwood and Davis were convicted of second-degree murder, robbery, conspiracy, carrying a firearm in public, and possession of an instrument of a crime. Both men were sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In May 2017, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed Kingwood’s convictions and sentence. In September, the same court affirmed Davis’s convictions and sentence.

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. The grand jury found that Nordo: (1) discussed sexual conduct with individuals; (2) gave individuals money; (3) inappropriately stared at and made comments about the genitalia of various detainees, arrestees, and prisoners; (4) discussed having sexual relationships with various individuals; (5) requested that incarcerated individuals refer him to “homosexual inmates” so that he could have sex with them or groom them sexually; (6) frequently volunteered to handle ministerial work for other detectives, giving him greater access to victims for the above offenses as well as for information gathering; (7) engaged in personal conversations related to boxing, sports, or other topics of mutual interest in order to test individuals’ reactions and their likelihood to resist or comply; and (8) intimidated witnesses by displaying his firearm, admonishing them that their testimony would not be believed over his own.

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

In April 2021, the prosecution provided to the defense three sets of documents pertaining to the case: the complete prosecution and homicide files, a disclosure of a $20,000 reward paid to Chestnut, and a disclosure of the criminal investigation of Nordo.

Subsequently, Jennifer Merrigan, an attorney with the law firm of Phillips Black, filed a Post-Conviction Relief Act petition on behalf of Kingwood seeking to vacate his convictions. Attorney Teri Himebaugh filed a similar petition on behalf of Davis.

The petitions claimed that the prosecution had been aware of allegations of Nordo’s misconduct in other cases years earlier, as early as 2005, but had failed to act or disclose the information to the defense.

The defense noted that despite Jenkins’s repeated testimony that he could not find Chaney Hasan, the homicide file contained a printed mugshot of Hasan that was timestamped “11/16/2012 5:42 p.m.,” which was at least an hour before Kingwood signed his statement. The file also contained a report of Hasan’s criminal history. It noted that Hasan lived on the same block where Kingwood lived, and in the same neighborhood where Coles claimed he found the murder weapon. Jenkins, the defense claimed, had testified falsely about Hasan and the trial prosecutor, Lorraine Donnelly, had failed to correct him.

The defense noted that Jenkins had been accused of being in the interrogation room in 2010 during questioning of Obina Onyiah in an unrelated Philadelphia murder. Jenkins, the defense claimed, did nothing while detective James Pitts and other officers physically abused Onyiah until he falsely confessed. Onyiah was convicted of murder and exonerated in 2021. In 2024, Pitts was convicted of two counts of perjury and three counts of obstructing administration of law or other government function, based on his misconduct in Onyiah's wrongful conviction.

The homicide file also contained reports of six robberies that were similar to the description of Lee’s shooting in which one, two, or three men approached victims saying some variation of “You know what it is.” All were between 7 and 11:30 p.m. and within 2.1 miles of where Lee was shot. Four of them occurred within four days of Lee’s shooting. None of that information had been disclosed to the defense prior to trial.

The homicide file included interviews with witnesses who described an attempted shooting of Lee at Lee’s home the day before he was killed. Witnesses had provided descriptions of the gunman. This information did not appear to have been investigated and was not disclosed to the defense.

The homicide file included interviews of people during a neighborhood canvass after Lee was shot. Several witnesses provided information that suggested someone other than Kingwood and Davis were involved. These reports, which also listed numerous possible other suspects, were not disclosed.

Kingwood’s petition said that the prosecutor in the case, Lorraine Donnelly, had put a note in the prosecution file that said that police believed that Davis previously had been involved in a robbery during which shots were fired at police officers. “This allegation, undisclosed to defense counsel, explains why Detectives Jenkins and Nordo might concoct a story pinning a murder on Mr. Davis, and further explains why they were so willing to allow Mr. Kingwood to remain free for three months following his supposed confession to police, the petition said. Had the prosecution disclosed that information, the defense at trial could have “employed any number of strategies to establish a motive for the detectives’ misconduct and to sow reasonable doubt in the jury.”

Kingwood claimed in his petition that Nordo questioned him repeatedly, and at one point moved him to a different interrogation room. “Nordo told Mr. Kingwood that he could be the first man for Nordo ‘to have sex with,’ and told Mr. Kingwood that he could get him off the street, insinuating that Mr. Kingwood could get paid for engaging in some variety of sex work.”

Kingwood said he confronted Jenkins about Nordo sexually assaulting people, that he told his defense counsel at trial (who found the claim unbelievable), and that he brought it up in the presence of a female prosecutor. “I know she heard me when I said it out loud at the D.A.’s office,” Kingwood said.

In November 2021, Patricia Cummings, CIU supervisor, filed a response that laid out in excruciating detail how Jenkins had committed perjury, how the trial prosecutor had failed to correct his perjury, and the litany of exculpatory and impeachment evidence that had not been disclosed to the defense.

“Put plainly, the Commonwealth had no confidence that the jury would have discounted all the exculpatory and impeaching evidence regarding Nordo, found Kingwood’s purported confession to be voluntary, and convicted Kingwood and Davis,” the prosecution said.

On June 1, 2022, a jury convicted Nordo on two assault charges​, as well as ​obstruction of justice and official oppression. He was later sentenced to 24 ½ to 49 years in prison.

On June 27, 2022, an evidentiary hearing was ordered on Kingwood’s petition. In July 2022, the trial prosecutor, Donnelly, testified that when she learned about the allegations against Nordo, she immediately remembered the prosecution of Kingwood and Davis—she thought Kingwood could have been a victim of Nordo.

She recalled that Nordo had said that Kingwood was prepared to make a proffer of evidence in an attempt to cut a deal. But Nordo failed to show up for the proffer session. “Kingwood kept asking, ‘Where’s Nordo? Where’s Nordo?’ And he was very adamant,” Donnelly recalled. “And I was, like, something came up, he’s doing something on a job…he can’t be here.”

Kingwood was “really upset,” Donnelly testified. “And he just kept saying, ‘Where’s Nordo? He knows what he did. He knows what he did.’ And I was just, like, ‘Well, what did he do?’ And then Curtis Kingwood kind of shut down, and he wouldn’t talk anymore.”

Donnelly said after Nordo was arrested, she thought of the prosecution of Kingwood and Davis, saying it was “the only case that ever gave me pause.” By then a lawyer in private practice, Donnelly said she then contacted the district attorney’s office and suggested that the prosecutor should investigate whether Nordo sexually assaulted Kingwood during his 43 hours of custodial interrogation.

One of Kingwood’s two trial defense attorneys, Daniel Conner, testified that his co-counsel told him at the time of the trial that Kingwood had told him that Nordo had sodomized Kingwood during the interrogation. “[H]e didn’t use that language, but I’m cleaning it up,” Conner testified. “And of course, something like that would stand out.” Conner said his co-counsel “couldn’t believe it because that was so way out there. You wouldn’t expect something like that to happen anywhere in America.”

In August 2022, the CIU filed a response saying that Kingwood was entitled to a new trial. The case was continued until January 2023. The case was subsequently reassigned to a different judge, who reviewed the evidence and, on November 2, 2023, vacated the convictions of Kingwood and Davis. The prosecution immediately dismissed the charges.

Kingwood was released that day. Davis remained incarcerated for an unrelated non-fatal shooting that occurred in 2012.

Michael Garmisa, CIU supervisor, issued a statement saying, “The system’s failure to intervene in 2005 when [Philadelphia Police Department] leadership and the then-District Attorney became aware of Philip Nordo’s disturbing crimes has resulted in incalculable harm to individuals Nordo targeted, the families of murder victims, and the public at-large. The District Attorney’s [Larry Krasner] decision to acknowledge these wrongs is an important step toward regaining the public's trust.”

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 11/15/2023
Last Updated: 7/17/2024
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Robbery, Weapon Possession or Sale, Illegal Use of a Weapon, Conspiracy
Reported Crime Date:2011
Sentence:Life without parole
Age at the date of reported crime:22
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No