It’s Past Time to Free Jimmy Dennis!

jimmy dennis

It’s Past Time to Free Jimmy Dennis!

John Leslie

Recently, a Philadelphia man, Donte Rollins, was freed after 10 years in prison. The District Attorney’s office declined to retry Rollins after it was demonstrated that he had ineffective counsel in his original trial. Earlier this Fall, Common Pleas Court Judge Rayford Means refused to order a new trial. His decision was overruled by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Rollins, who had been convicted in the shooting of 6 year old Jabar Wright, had an alibi. He was shown on surveillance video in the Gallery Mall 20 minutes after the shooting. Evidence corroborating his alibi was not presented by his attorney at trial.

There is reason to rejoice that another wrongly convicted person has been freed, but we have to ask – where is the justice for Jimmy Dennis?

In August of 2016, the Federal Appeals Court upheld a previous decision ordering a new trial for Jimmy.

Writing for the majority, Judge Marjorie O. Rendell, wrote,  “Evidence suppressed by the prosecution – a receipt corroborating Dennis’ alibi, an inconsistent statement by the Commonwealth’s key eyewitness, and documents indicating that another individual committed the murder — effectively gutted the Commonwealth’s case against Dennis…The withholding of these pieces of evidence denied Dennis a fair trial in state court…”  

Jimmy’s case was overturned in Federal Court  3 years ago. The District Attorney was ordered to either release Jimmy or retry him.  And the DA’s office continues to stall.  I urge reader to take the time to read the decision for themselves. The passage below relies on extensive quotes from the Judge Brody’s decision. I ask the reader to be patient with the number of quotes, which are a powerful indictment of police and prosecutorial misconduct. For more information

The following is from a previous post:

The decision written by Judge Anita Brody, upheld Jimmy’s petition “on the basis of exculpatory and impeachment evidence that the Commonwealth improperly withheld from the defense at the time of the trial, in violation of Brady v Maryland.”

“Dennis’ conviction was based solely on shaky eyewitness identifications, the testimony of a man (Thompson) who said he saw Dennis with a gun the night of the murder, and a description of clothing seized from the house of Dennis’ father that the police subsequently lost before police photographed or catalogued it. In short, Dennis prosecution was based on scant evidence at bests. In the process, the Commonwealth covered up evidence that pointed away from Dennis.”

This withheld evidence was:

  1. failure to reveal the existence of a witness who identified others as the real killers (Frazier)
  2. failure to reveal to the defense a receipt in the possession of cops that would have confirmed Jimmy’s alibi (Cason)
  3. failure of police to follow up on the allegation that a witness, Howard, had said she knew the shooter from high school.

The Judge also criticized the defense saying, “Overall, Dennis’ lawyer provided only a bare minimum defense.”

The prosecution also failed to reveal to the defense that Thompson had been facing charges, thus denying the defense the opportunity to impeach Thompson’s testimony.

  1. Frazier: “Police and prosecutors also failed to turn over a series of documents relating to the statement of William Frazier with detailed, credible information about the murder – even though police turned over numerous tips and statements relaying neighborhood rumors. Frazier, an inmate in the Montgomery County Jail, gave a statement…relaying a phone call he had had with two friends who told him that they and a third friend had committed the Williams murder…Police failed to investigate fully Frazier’s claims and the defense never learned of Frazier’s statement until a decade after trial.”
  2. Cason: “The jury also never heard about an important document that could have significantly buttressed Dennis’ alibi. Dennis had told police that he saw a neighborhood acquaintance, Latanya Cason, on the K bus, the afternoon of the murder.” Cason told police “that she saw Dennis when she got off the bus and that she waved…The only discrepancy was what time the interaction took place. Dennis testified that he boarded the 1:56 PM bus – right at the time the murder occurred.” 

    “Cason, however, testified that their interaction much later…She explained that she left work around 2 PM, took the subway to North Philadelphia, (and) picked up her welfare check…” Cason took the bus after running some errands.What is at issue is the time-stamp on the receipt given to Cason at the time she picked up her welfare check. It was stamped “13.03.” In military time this is 1:03 PM. The time-stamp proves that Cason could not have gotten off of work at 2 PM, but at an earlier time, which demonstrates that Dennis’s claim to have seen Cason about 2:15 PM.

    “”Uncontroverted affidavit testimony demonstrates that the Commonwealth possessed the receipt, and the clearly established rules of Brady and its progeny demonstrate it was improperly withheld.”

  1. Howard: Zahra Howard, a friend of the victim, allegedly told the aunt and uncle of the victim, that “shortly after the murder, that she recognized the shooter from her high school, and that two people she knew, ‘Kim’ and ‘Quinton,’ were there.” A “police activity sheet” relating to these statements “was never turned over to the defense. There is no question that this statement was helpful to the defense and that it was suppressed by the Commonwealth.”

(all quotes in the above are from the Judge’s decision, unless otherwise noted.)

Free Jimmy Now!

We are overjoyed that Donte Rollins will get to spend the holidays with his family. It is past time to free Jimmy Dennis. Seth Williams, someone who fought against racism and apartheid as a student at Penn State, has become a cog in the racist machine of mass incarceration.




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