Number of years spent wrongfully imprisoned: 15
Age at the time of conviction: 16
In August 1995, Thomas Keal was shot at approximately 2:30 a.m. as he left his seafood store. Two men approached Mr. Keal with guns, attempted to rob him, and then shot and killed him. Mr. Keal’s daughter saw her father killed from her second-story window across the street. She saw the perpetrators for a few seconds. At the time of the crime, Ms. Keal was unable to identify anyone in police photo arrays. The case went unsolved for two years.
In 1997, detectives approached showed Ms. Keal updated photo arrays. This time, over two years after her father’s murder, Ms. Keal identified two men who lived in her neighborhood, one of whom was Eugene Gilyard. There was no other evidence tying Mr. Gilyard to the murder.
Mr. Gilyard was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. In March 2011, Mr. Gilyard learned that Ricky Welborn, imprisoned for other charges, admitted that he killed Thomas Keal.
In June 2011, staff from the Pennsylvania Innocence Project met with Mr. Welborn and took a detailed written statement from him confessing to the Keal murder. We also uncovered three eyewitnesses who corroborated Mr. Welborn’s confession. The accounts provided by Mr. Welborn and the additional witnesses are consistent with the events as described by Ms. Keal, down to the type of weapon used.
In August 2011, the Project filed a Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) petition on Mr. Gilyard’s behalf and sent a letter to the DA’s office, co-signed by the victim’s daughter, Ms. Keal, asking the Philadelphia District Attorney’s (DA) office and the Philadelphia Police Department to reinvestigate Mr. Keal’s murder.
The DA’s Office did not respond to the letter, but the case was re-assigned to Judge Rose Marie DeFino-Nastasi in late 2012. At first, the DA moved to dismiss Eugene’s petition because they were, according to prosecutors, “untimely,” despite Mr. Welborn’s detailed confession.
Immediately after the conclusion of the four-day hearing, Judge DeFino-Nastasi ruled from the bench that she was granting both Eugene’s petition. She vacated their convictions and ordered that they be tried again, although she expressed great reservations about their guilt and the quality of evidence used to convict them compared to the quantity of evidence of their innocence.
On November 15, 2013, Eugene Gilyard was released from state prison after serving 15 years for a murder neither man committed. In March, 2014, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office withdrew all charges against both men, ending their 15 year ordeal.