Judge OKs DA motion to clear Philly man of murder, after nearly 4,000 nights in prison

Twenty-nine -year-old Dontai Patterson is now clear of all charges after an extraordinary motion filed by DA Larry Krasner.

Steve Tawa
May 16, 2018 - 2:46 pm
Dontai Patterson

Steve Tawa | KYW Newsradio


PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- A Philadelphia man whose first-degree murder conviction was recently vacated by a judge is now clear of all charges after an extraordinary motion filed by District Attorney Larry Krasner. 

It reads, in part, "the Commonwealth will not retry a case against a man who is probably innocent, and whose case is so lacking in integrity."   

The motion in bold letters requests that a judge order "nolle prosequi all charges" against Dontai Patterson. It's a legal term in Latin, but he knows what it means in plain english, "we shall no longer prosecute."

"It's not like you're innocent until you're proven guilty," Patterson said. "It's the other way around. You're guilty until you prove your innocence. In my case, that's exactly what happened."

After 11 years in prison, until his recent release on bail, the now 29-year old Patterson can lose the ankle bracelet and be set free from the confines of house arrest.

"It should never be too late," Patterson said, "if you've got the evidence to prove your innocence."

Krasner says the conviction was "an egregious example of police and prosecutorial misconduct hiding evidence." Patterson was tried twice, the first ended in a mistrial, and he was convicted in a second trial in 2009. Krasner wrote in his motion "neither jury heard the truth." The DA says "it is inconceivable that both trial prosecutors were unaware of the exculpatory documents in the police file," including strong evidence that Patterson, who was 17 at the time, was not the shooter. Patterson says the victim was a friend.

"I was just going to see if my homey was cool. Next thing you know, I was arrested, and that was that," he said. "The whole time, they knew I didn't do it. There was evidence to prove my innocence. But the whole time, they were hiding evidence."

They include photo arrays of the apparent shooter, who was not Patterson. That man, said to be involved in a drug turf dispute, was killed a few months later.

Krasner says the defense should have called at trial a grocery store owner who witnesses the murder, and specifically told police the killer was not Patterson. That eyewitness never testified.

Former Assistant D.A. Richard Sax prosecuted the second Patterson trial, getting a first degree murder conviction. Sax says the narrative of Krasner's motion is filled with "half-truths, rather than applying the law properly."

"He was stating inaccuracies," Sax said, "taking all of the evidence out of context and in a light most favorable to the defense."

Sax retired in 2017 after 37 years as a prosecutor, many of them in the Homicide Unit.

"There has never been a prosecutor, especially in homicide, who isn't the subject of attacks with prosecutorial misconduct. It happens in every case," he said. "That's what defense attorneys do, they say the judge erred on the law, or the defense was ineffective and or the prosecutor engaged in misconduct."

Sax was vocal critic of Krasner, a former long-time defense lawyer, when Krasner fired 30 staff members, some of them senior homicide prosecutors, three days after he was sworn in as district attorney.

"I will give this to Larry Krasner," Sax said. "He has stood by his campaign pledge to empty the jail cells in Philadelphia."