Man freed after wrongly serving 37 years in prison for murder case in which police allegedly bribed witness

A Philadelphia man was freed from prison on Tuesday after 37 years behind bars. Willie Stokes was convicted of murder in 1944. Just days after his conviction, the trial witness was charged with perjury.

According to NPR, Stokes did not learn about the perjury plea until 2015 after already carrying out a good portion of his life sentence. Allegedly, police had bribed the witness with sex and drugs in exchange for false testimony in 1983.

Both detectives involved in offering witness Franklin Lee the sex for lies deal are both dead. Lee was in custody for other rape and murder charges at the time and said the detectives had promised him a lighter sentence.

Lee had recanted the story that Stokes had confessed to murdering someone during a dice game. He pleaded guilty to perjury and was sentenced to a maximum of seven years.

Stokes’ lawyer, Michael Diamondstein said in a hearing in federal court, “The homicide prosecutors that used Franklin Lee’s testimony to convict Willie Stokes then prosecuted Franklin Lee for lying on Willie Stokes. And they never told Willie Stokes.” Lee ended up serving a total of 35 years for rape, murder, and perjury charges.

Diamondstean said, “Today is a tremendous day. We’re all very thankful. However, it’s also a sad day, because it reminds us of how lawless, unfair, and unjust Philadelphia law enforcement was for so long.” Stokes is expected to appear in court on January 27th where the district attorney’s office will make the decision to retry him or dismiss the case.

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