Two years after a plea deal set his co-defendant free, a judge has overturned the conviction of a man who is serving a life prison sentence for a 1995 Harrisburg murder.
Justice “commands” the voiding of Corey Walker’s convictions because prosecutors didn’t provide his defense attorney with critical evidence that could have undermined the testimony of key prosecution witnesses and called into question the legitimacy of the police investigation, Senior Judge Lawrence F. Clark Jr. ruled Wednesday.
Walker was one of two men convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison for the slaying. In July 2017, Walker’s co-defendant, Lorenzo Johnson, was granted his freedom after he accepted a deal from the state attorney general’s office to plead guilty to a third-degree murder charge. Even in accepting that deal, Johnson insisted he didn’t kill Williams.
Clark’s finding that Walker deserves a new trial hinges on the failure of the attorney general’s office, which prosecuted Walker and Johnson, to hand over to the defense multiple pieces of evidence. Walker said he was unaware that omitted information existed until it was discovered as part of Johnson’s appeal in 2014.
One item that wasn’t provided to the defense was a statement the main prosecution witness, Carla Brown, gave to police in 1996. Clark said Brown was the “sole witness tying (Walker) to the murder in the absence of any physical evidence.”
The statement Brown gave police, had it been known to Walker’s attorney during the trial, could have been used to undermine her testimony to the jury because it “contradicts her trial testimony on multiple, critical points,” the judge found.
Clark noted, for example, that Brown’s statement contradicts her trial testimony regarding an argument she supposedly saw Williams and Walker engage in at a bar right before the slaying. Also, her statement to police about her belief that Walker was concealing a shotgun in his clothing doesn’t mesh with what she told the jury in 1997, the judge found.
“Absent the trial testimony of Brown, the commonwealth’s case against (Walker) is weak, if not non-existent,” Clark wrote. Had Brown’s 1996 statement been available to the defense during Walker’s trial, it could have altered the jury’s conclusion regarding Brown’s credibility, he concluded.
Eight pages from the police report on the murder investigation weren’t provided to Walker’s lawyer, either, Clark noted. That omission was prejudicial, he found, because those missing pages revealed police originally had four other suspects for the slaying. Brown was among those original suspects, the judge noted.
“The fact that the commonwealth’s witness is the god-sister of the lead detective, and that Duffin continually helped Doubs avoid going to jail for her criminal activities is a fact that should have been disclosed,” Clark wrote.
All that withheld evidence could have “neutralized” the prosecution of Walker had the defense known about it during the 1997 trial, he found.
That “material would have given defense counsel unique ability to discredit the commonwealth’s primary witnesses, called into question the integrity of the police investigation and perhaps pointed to another perpetrator,” Clark concluded.
Davis Younts, an attorney for Walker, said he is “ecstatic” about Clark’s decision.
“He really identified the core issues and got it right,” Younts said. “This kind of outcome gives you faith in the system.”