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Labeled a murderer for 24 years, Philadelphia man is exonerated

June 24, 2019, Samantha Melamed - The Philadelphia Inquirer

It took almost 25 years, but the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office finally conceded that Johnny Berry, who was just 16 when he was arrested in 1994, did not participate in the murder of Leonard Jones, 73, in the city’s Parkside neighborhood.

At the initial trial, the DA offered Berry’s co-defendant, Tauheed Lloyd, a deal to testify against Berry. As a result, Lloyd got a 15½- to 37-year sentence, and Berry got life. And in 2008, when Berry received a hearing on his post-conviction appeals, the DA warned Lloyd that recanting could lead to perjury charges or even a new prosecution for murder.

But Monday morning, at the Stout Center for Criminal Justice, Common Pleas Court Judge Barbara McDermott threw out Berry’s conviction. And the DA — whose Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) has been reviewing the case for the last year — declined to retry him.

“Had the commonwealth allowed Mr. Lloyd to testify without the threat of perjury charges, it’s our belief that Mr. Berry would have prevailed at his [2008] evidentiary hearing,” Assistant District Attorney Tom Gaeta said.

Berry, who served more than 23 years in prison and the past year on parole, said he wished justice had arrived more quickly. But, in the space of Monday’s brief hearing, he saw his future transformed.

“Now, hopefully people won’t identify me as being connected to a murder, and see me as I am — not a criminal,” said Berry, now 41.

Berry was released from prison because he was a juvenile lifer, a class of individuals whose life sentences, imposed when they were under 18, were found unconstitutional under a U.S. Supreme Court decision that emphasized the diminished culpability associated with youth. McDermott, charged with handling his resentencing, had asked the CIU to review Berry’s innocence claim.

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