Op-Ed by C J Oakes
The perfect crime. It has been the subject of countless books, plays, and movies since books, plays, and movies were created. Committing the so-called perfect crime has been the dream of criminals; solving the perfect crime the goal of detectives.
Yet is there any such thing as a perfect crime? Is it really possible to take a life and get away with it?
One Way to Take a Life
Taking the life of another is a crime called murder. Of course, it is only murder when taking the life is not sanctioned by the state. Otherwise, taking a life is called justice or war, depending on the numbers involved.
in 1991, Chedell Ray Williams was a 17-year old student at Olney High School. Olney High is a charter school in Philadelphia and Williams was in her Senior year. While walking home one day, she was robbed of $450.00 and her earrings; she was later shot in the head and killed.
Three eyewitnesses told their story to police, telling them that they knew the killers. No perfect crime here. Police detectives had enough to charge James Dennis even though he claimed to have been on a bus miles from the scene when the crime occurred.
Facts Are Important When Solving a Crime
The only problem with this case is that the alibi was solid. In 2013, a Federal Judge ruled that in the case of James Dennis, Philadelphia prosecutors hid evidence which would have excluded the young man as a participant in the murder. He did participate in the robbery, but was not present during the slaying of Williams much later.
The Judge found that witnesses who stated the killer was taller than Dennis were not called to testify–instead, their testimonies were buried byt the Prosecution. To quote U.S. District Court Judge Anita Brody,
The Commonwealth covered up evidence that pointed away from Dennis. It ignored Dennis’ own explanation for where he was at the time of the murder: taking a bus from his father’s home to the Abbotsford Homes project. It allowed awitness who saw Dennis on that bus to give incorrect testimony about what time that interaction occurred.
The police focus on Dennis stemmed from neighborhood rumors that he had been involved. This focus appears to have led police to overlook disparities between the eyewitness descriptions of the shooter and Dennis, most importantly their descriptions of the shooter’s size. All five of the nine eyewitnesses who provided an estimate of the shooter’s height in their statements to the police described the shooter as between 5’7” and 5’10”, with four describing him as 5’9” or 5’10”. Not a single eyewitness described the shooter as small, short, or petite. However, Dennis is only 5’5”and 125-132 pounds, significantly smaller than the descriptions of the shooter.
Another Way to Take a Life