Innocent — and stuck in prison for life? Philly juvenile lifers face a Catch 22

December 11, 2018

December 9, 2018, Samantha Melamed - The Philadelphia Inquirer

 


First, there was the chaotic din of shouting and street noise. Then, David Sparks’ voice crackled onto the 911 recording.

 

“Somebody got shot. Somebody’s possibly dying — he’s possibly dying on Bouvier Street.”

 

It was Sept. 4, 2006, Labor Day, and a Nicetown block party was pushing midnight. Teenagers, drunk on the dregs of summer, milled in and out of a corner Chinese takeout, ordering food through the Plexiglas.

 

There had been a confrontation involving a 19-year-old man named Gary Hall. Someone had pulled a gun, firing at him as he rode away on a girl’s bicycle.

“He might be dead. He might be dying."

 

At first, bystanders wondered if Hall had been hit at all, the way he kept pedaling down the block. Then, he fell.

 

“Please, could you hurry up, please.”

 

Hall did not survive the night. And Sparks, who was just 16 years old — so young he was initially picked up for a curfew violation — was charged with the murder.

 

The trial, before a judge, took just three days, the main evidence against Sparks the eyewitness testimony of two teenage cousins whose accounts were malleable over the course of the investigation and trial.

 

Even so, Sparks was convicted and sentenced to life without parole.

 

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