Ross Feller Casey has won a record-setting $6.25 million settlement for a Philadelphia man who was wrongly convicted and spent 21 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit.
The settlement with the city of Philadelphia comes a year after Ross Feller Casey filed a federal wrongful imprisonment lawsuit on behalf of Terrance Lewis, alleging wide-ranging police misconduct, including witness coercion, false testimony, and evidence that was hidden from the defense.
The settlement is the largest ever in Pennsylvania for an exoneration case that didn’t involve DNA evidence.
In a statement announcing the settlement, Robert Ross, a founding partner of Ross Feller Casey, and Ross Feller Casey lawyer Kevin Harden, Jr., lauded the city for making “a serious effort to compensate Terrance Lewis.”
“Although no amount of money will give Mr. Lewis his life back, this settlement will help Terrance re-establish connections in his community and continue his work helping others who have been wrongfully convicted and remain imprisoned. We are hopeful that this resolution will serve as a starting point for future reforms and are grateful to conclude this chapter of Mr. Lewis’ life,” Ross and Harden said.
In 1999, Lewis was sentenced to life in prison after being falsely convicted of having a role in a murder three years earlier in West Philadelphia. He was a teenager when he first entered prison. In all, he spent 21 years, five months and five days in prison before he was eventually released in 2019. A judge who was reviewing the conviction threw it out, and prosecutors then decided not to retry the case, acknowledging the case against Lewis was a miscarriage of justice.
Philadelphia Police Detectives, in order to make their case against Lewis, “improperly used their power and positions to coerce witnesses into making false statements and identifications, and to offer sworn testimony that they knew to be false but that was consistent with (their) theory of the crime,” according to the lawsuit. The detectives “also withheld exculpatory evidence that would have demonstrated Mr. Lewis' innocence and deliberately disregarded information and evidence that would have demonstrated flaws in the case against him, thereby causing Mr. Lewis to spend more than 21 years wrongfully incarcerated for a murder that he did not commit,” the suit stated.
Of the settlement, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said, “I know that money alone cannot compensate Mr. Lewis and his family for the 21 years he spent incarcerated. And I know that much more must be done to reform our criminal justice system and to help the families and communities that have been torn apart by instances in which the system didn't work.”
“This work is difficult and takes significant effort and time, but I remain fully committed to it so we can create a more equitable and just city for all Philadelphians,” Kenney added.
Ross Feller Casey is among the nation’s leading firms litigating wrongful conviction and imprisonment lawsuits. The settlement received widespread media coverage.
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