Pennsylvania Man Becomes the 122nd Inmate Freed From Death Row

More than 16 years after a Pennsylvania jury returned three death sentences against Harold Wilson (pictured), new DNA evidence has helped lead to his acquittal. Yesterday, Wilson became the nation’s 122nd person freed from death row according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). During his 1989 capital trial, Wilson was prosecuted by former Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Jack McMahon, a man best known for his role in a training video that advised new Philadelphia prosecutors on how to use race in selecting death penalty juries.

In 1999, Wilson’s death sentence was overturned when a court determined that his defense counsel had failed to investigate and present mitigating evidence during his original trial. A later appeal led the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to call for a new hearing because of evidence that McMahon used racially discriminatory practices in jury selection. In 2003, a trial court found that McMahon had improperly exercised his peremptory strikes to eliminate potential black jurors and granted Wilson a new trial, a decision that the District Attorney’s office did not appeal.  The court stated that in the new trial the death penalty could not be sought.  The jury in this most recent trial acquitted Wilson of all charges on November 15, 2005, after new DNA evidence revealed blood from the crime scene that did not come from Wilson or any of the victims, a finding suggesting the involvement of another assailant.

Wilson is the second person to be freed from death row this year, and the sixth Pennsylvania death row inmate to be freed since 1982. (Source: Federal Defender Association of  Philadelphia, November 16, 2005). Read DPIC's Press Release. See Innocence. See also, "Blind Justice," DPIC's latest report that examines the problems of the death penalty from the perspective of jurors.