On November 15, 2013, Eugene Gilyard and Lance Felder were 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.
In August 1995, Thomas Keal was shot at around 2:30 a.m. as he left the seafood store that he owned. Two men approached Mr. Keal with guns, attempted to rob him, and then shot and killed him. Tragically, Mr. Keal’s own 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 photo arrays shown her by police. For two years, the case went unsolved.
In 1997, detectives approached Ms. Keal again and showed her more 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 evidence tying Mr. Gilyard to the murder other than Ms. Keal’s identification. Mr. Gilyard was convicted, and is currently serving a life sentence for the murder.
In March 2011, Mr. Gilyard learned that Ricky Welborn, imprisoned on other charges, had acknowledged that he had 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. Project staff members also recently 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 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 DA’s office and the Philadelphia Police Department to reinvestigate Mr. Keal’s murder. The DA’s Office did not respond to the letter, and the case stagnated until Judge Rose Marie DeFino-Nastasi was finally assigned in late 2012. At first, the DA moved to dismiss Eugene and Lance’s petitions because they were, according to prosecutors, “untimely” despite the detailed confession. When Judge DeFino-Nastasi denied that request, the prosecutors next argued that since Rolex now was refusing to participate by invoking his rights under the Fifth Amendment, his confession could not be entered in evidence as it was “hearsay.” Again, Judge DeFino-Nastasi denied the prosecutors position, and she ordered a full evidentiary hearing.
Immediately after the conclusion of the four-day hearing, Judge DeFino-Nastasi ruled from the bench that she was granting both Eugene and Lance’s petitions. 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. The next month, both men were released from prison on house arrest, and within 6 months all charges were withdrawn.