After 27 years in prison, Willie Veasy's conviction in a 1992 shooting death in North Philadelphia was vacated.
"Innocent people shouldn't be sitting in jail cells," District Attorney Larry Krasner said at a news conference after the order. "It’s not that hard. The system should be just. It should be fair.”
Mr. Veasy is the 10th person exonerated with the help of Mr. Krasner's Conviction Integrity Unit, which was expanded last year.
Patricia Cummings heads the unit. She told the Philadephia Inquirer that the unit has reviewed 200 cases. That means 5% of the cases reviewed so far have resulted in exonerations, Mr. Krasner said.
Ms. Cummings filed a motion last week agreeing that Mr. Veasy was likely innocent and should be released. She said prosecutors now believe a confession Mr. Veasy signed was coerced by homicide detectives. The office is investigating two of the officers involved in the case, Martin Devlin and Paul Worrell, who Mr. Veasy's lawyers argued had a "pattern and practice" of coercing confessions.
Another man, Anthony Wright, said that Devlin assaulted him and forced him to falsely confess to rape and murder. Convicted in 1993, Mr. Wright was acquitted at a retrial in 2016 after DNA evidence identified another man.
Besides Mr. Veasy's alleged confession, the prosecution's case relied on an eyewitness who admitted her eyesight was poor and on discrediting Mr. Veasy's alibi.
Mr. Veasy was convicted of second-degree murder in 1993 and automatically sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. The prosecutor at his trial, Mark Gibson, told the Inquirer that the exoneration process should require a public trial. He was among 31 prosecutors that Mr. Krasner fired when he took office.
The courtroom was packed with Mr. Veasy's family members and supporters, who applauded when the judge told him, "You're a free man."
"I get to walk out of here the same way I walked in," Mr. Veasy said. "An innocent man."