Home News Philadelphia Man Is Cleared in Shooting After About a Dozen Years in Prison

Philadelphia Man Is Cleared in Shooting After About a Dozen Years in Prison

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Philadelphia Man Is Cleared in Shooting After About a Dozen Years in Prison

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A judge in Philadelphia cleared a man in an attempted murder case on Monday after he spent about a dozen years in prison related to a shooting for which officials said there was weak evidence and the prosecution did not meet the burden of proof. The decision ended a yearslong battle to overturn his conviction.

The man, Charles Rice, who goes by C.J., was serving a 30- to 60-year sentence related to a 2011 shooting that injured four people, according to court records. He was convicted in 2013 on multiple charges, including four counts of attempted murder.

In November, a federal judge vacated his conviction after the state conceded that Mr. Rice’s original lawyer had “rendered ineffective assistance.” The judge gave the state 180 days to decide whether to retry Mr. Rice or dismiss the charges.

On Monday, the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia County granted the state’s motion to dismiss all charges.

“We know that if you put all of the reliable evidence forward it does not establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” Larry Krasner, the district attorney for the City of Philadelphia, said at a news conference on Monday.

In declining to try Mr. Rice again, the District Attorney’s Office granted that it would not meet the burden of proof for the charges, which the office said amounted to an exoneration for Mr. Rice. Judge James Eisenhower granted the prosecutor’s motion, dropping all charges.

The reversal in the case was years in the making but received national attention in November 2022 when Jake Tapper, a CNN correspondent and anchor, wrote about Mr. Rice’s case for The Atlantic.

Of being a free man, Mr. Rice told CNN on Monday that “the air tastes sweeter, the sun shines different — that’s a different warmth.”

Mr. Rice, now 30, was incarcerated for more than 12 years. He has been home on bail since December.

The case dates back to Sept. 25, 2011, when a shooting occurred in South Philadelphia, injuring four people. Only one of the four victims was able to identify Mr. Rice as a possible suspect, despite not seeing him for four years, according to court documents. Mr. Rice had been seriously injured in another shooting just weeks before, and prosecutors tried to strengthen their case by arguing that the shooting was in retaliation.

Mr. Rice’s court-appointed lawyer at the time agreed to allow the evidence on the potential motive to be presented against him, a move that the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, which helped in Mr. Rice’s appeal, said directly contributed to his 2013 conviction.

William Fritze, an assistant district attorney who leads the office’s gun violence task force, said at the news conference on Monday that upon his office’s review, “it became pretty obvious to us that we were not going to be able to reach a burden of reasonable doubt in this case in order to proceed.”

In one instance, a woman described Mr. Rice in an eyewitness account as having had braids hanging down around his face at the time of the shooting, but Mr. Rice’s booking photo showed him in cornrows, with his hair completely pulled back, Mr. Fritze said. She claimed to have seen Mr. Rice as she looked back over her shoulder.

Also, a review of a 911 call revealed that a neighbor who witnessed the shooting had such a clear view of the shooter that they could describe what he had on — a blue shirt and bluejeans — but Mr. Fritze said there was never any testimony or further investigation of that account.

“So much of what previously happened in Mr. Rice’s case was the system not working,” Katherine Ernst, an assistant district attorney, said at the news conference. “When we agreed that Mr. Rice’s conviction should be reversed after a thorough investigation, the system finally did work. This level of care that we put into our cases should be a model for post-conviction prosecution.”

Nilam Sanghvi, the legal director of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, said that the factors that led to Mr. Rice’s conviction are all too common in criminal prosecutions, and the new investigation into the case by the district attorney’s office should have been conducted 12 years ago.

“It takes courage to face the wrongs of the past,” she said. “We can never really right them because we can’t restore the years lost to wrongful conviction here, over a decade of C.J.’s life. But it’s important to recognize them, learn from them and remedy what we can.”

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