Labeled a murderer for 24 years, Philadelphia man is exonerated
PHILADELPHIA (June 24, 2019) — The Conviction Integrity and Special Investigations Unit of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office (DAO) on Monday helped secure the exoneration of Johnny Berry, a former “juvenile lifer” who has always maintained his innocence.
Berry’s exoneration by Common Pleas Court Judge Barbara McDermott today marks the seventh wrongful conviction vacated under District Attorney Larry Krasner.
Convicted of a robbery and murder that occurred when he was 17 years old, Berry served 23 years in prison for a crime in which a witness (co-defendant also charged in the homicide) named Berry as the shooter only to later recant, admitting in 2002 that he had lied.
By the time the witness was called to testify about Berry’s innocence in 2008, a DAO prosecutor threatened to charge him with perjury and retry him for murder if he persisted in his recantation. The witness ultimately invoked his Fifth Amendment rights, leaving Berry stuck serving life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“As a result of this prosecutor’s actions, the judicial process was thwarted so that the judge didn’t have the information she needed in order to decide whether Mr. Berry was entitled to relief and whether he was in fact innocent,” Patricia Cummings, DAO Conviction Integrity Unit Supervisor, said. “The facts calling Mr. Berry’s innocence into serious doubt have been known for many years, but as a result of the culture surrounding prosecutions at the time, the prior administration chose to ignore those facts. All of us charged to serve in the name of justice must work to ensure that flawed convictions are rectified with urgency.”
“The facts of Mr. Berry’s case are tragic and, unfortunately, all too common in our current criminal justice system. Seventeen years ago the main witness against Mr. Berry admitted he’d lied, and seventeen years is way too long a time for justice to finally be done,” District Attorney Krasner said. “Our obligation is not simply to do justice moving forward, but to also correct the injustices of the past.”
District Attorney Krasner continued: “Truth and fairness must always be our guide as law enforcement officers. I am grateful to Judge McDermott and to our CIU team for making that so for Johnny Berry today.”
The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is the largest prosecutor’s office in Pennsylvania, and one of the largest in the nation. It serves the more than 1.5 million citizens of the City and County of Philadelphia, employing 600 lawyers, detectives and support staff. It is organized into seven divisions: Executive/Administration, Trials, Pre-Trial, Investigations, Juvenile, Law, and Special Operations. The District Attorney’s Office is responsible for prosecution of over 40,000 criminal cases annually.