PENNSYLVANIA (USA): FIRST-DEGREE MURDER CHARGES DROPPED AGAINST TWO FORMER PENNSYLVANIA DEATH ROW PRISONERS WITH INNOCENCE CLAIMS
December 22, 2016: Two former Pennsylvania death row prisoners who have asserted their innocence for decades, Tyrone Moore and James Dennis, pled no contest to lesser charges.
The pleas avoided retrials on the charges that had initially sent them to death row.
Tyrone Moore, 62, Black, was sentenced to 20 years following his no contest plea to charges of third-degree murder.
Luzerne County Judge Michael T. Vough immediately imposed the sentence â essentially imposing time served because Moore has already served 14 years more than the maximum sentence.
Moore will be returned to State Correctional Institution Graterford for processing and will be released within a few days, Vough said. Moore He had already served 34 years, 22 of them on death row.
After his 1983 murder trial, Moore was sentenced to death for the Oct. 1, 1982, death of Nicholas Romanchick during a hold-up. In 2000, Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella vacated the death sentence, claiming Mooreâs attorneys were ineffective.
Moore was later resentenced to life in prison without parole. Moore has been appealing the case ever since and a federal judge agreed Moore deserved another chance at his case being heard. Christopher C. Conner, chief judge for United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, on August 27, 2014 ruled Moore deserved a new trial after he presented evidence of prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel, including failing to interview a co-defendant who testified in his own trial that Moore was not involved in the robbery and killing. After 25 years on death row, James Dennis, 48, Black) pled no contest in Philadelphia to charges of third-degree murder.
He was sentenced to death in 1992 for shooting dead Chedell Williams, 17, in October 1991.
His conviction had been overturned by a federal district court on 21/08/2013 as a result of multiple instances of prosecutorial misconduct suppressing evidence pointing to an alternate suspect and supporting Dennis' alibi.
At that point Dennis had spent 21 years on death row. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on 23/08/2016 upheld the avoidance.
The court called the conviction "a grave miscarriage of justice," saying that Dennis had been convicted and sentenced to death "for a crime in all probability he did not commit." His attorney, Karl Schwartz, told the court, "James Dennis entered a no-contest plea, not a guilty plea, because he maintains the same position that he has maintained for 25 years: that he is innocent of this crime. He and his family have made this incredibly difficult decision based on his and their strong desire to have him home and free, in lieu of potentially years of continuing litigation."
Dennis faces parole for an unrelated robbery conviction before he can be released. (Source: DPIC, 22/12/2016)