Eric Riddick has spent almost 30 years in prison on a murder charge he says he never killed. But on Friday, he went free.
"I feel happy, I feel happy," Riddick, 51, said as he walked out of a Philadelphia court.
“They say it takes a village to raise a child. I think it also requires the city to promote justice, ”he said, adding that the emotional crisis was" great ".
In recent years, his case has attracted international attention and a number of key individuals have called for his release, including a prominent hip-hop artist and a sympathetic city councilor.
In the summer of 1992, Riddick was convicted of the murder of his young friend William Catlett based on the testimony of one eyewitness and sentenced to life in prison.
The man has spent more than 26 years in prison for crimes he did not commit
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His case was brought to the attention of NBC News by rapper and activist Meek Mill, who claims to have met Riddick when he was sent to the prison on criminal charges.
Riddick's mother, Christine, has fought for her son for years, knocking on doors at City Hall and begging for his release from the day he was arrested.
His protest and persistence were monitored by Philadelphia Councilor David Oh, who became deeply involved in the liberation struggle and finally supported the decision that called for the Govt. Tom Wolf to be pardoned.
The night before Catlett was killed after police said a drug dispute, Riddick said he was two blocks away from his three friends - a claim he has always been. However, during the trial, his court-appointed defense lawyer did not call three alibi witnesses to testify.
Riddick insists his lawyer, who had already refused to comment when he was received by NBC News, did not defend himself.
The case was based on the testimony of one eyewitness, Shawn Stevenson, who identified himself as the shooter and told police he saw Riddick shoot the gun while fleeing the fire. But he dismissed his statement in an 1999 affidavit.
Riddick said he did not receive the affidavit until 2003 - and by the time he applied for an appeal, it was too late. Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act, or PCRA, states that appeals require a final year of filing without new evidence, in which case it must be lodged within 60 days.
Riddick's appeal has been rejected.
Nine years later, in 2012, forensic pathologist William Conrad found that Riddick would not be a shooter.
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In December 2017, two judges denied Riddick's latest application and admitted there was a flaw in the process. They wrote that "it is clear to everyone that it is possible for an innocent man to sit behind bars without a better reason than a badly pregnant system."
However, a group of Georgetown University students became involved in the case.
Marc Howard, one of the country's leading voices on justice and prison reform, teaches a course at Georgetown University called "Making an Exoneree," in which students examine cases of incarceration with the confidence that they are innocent. (Howard teaches a class with his childhood friend Marty Tankleff, who spent more than 17 years in a New York prison with security after being found guilty of killing his parents before being released in December 2007.)
Mill came to speak in Georgetown and spoke about Riddick's case to Howard, who that night watched the "NBC Nightly News" report aired months ago.
In 2019, three students began re-examining all aspects of Riddick's case, recording nearly 20 hours of their work on the road, including talking to his family and his lawyer as they sought out more witnesses.
At that time, Philadelphia had appointed a new regional attorney: Larry Krasner, a former civil war activist who had been a human rights lawyer for 25 years and, before that, became a public defender.
Eric Riddick is out of court in Philadelphia on May 28, 2021, after spending nearly 30 years in prison on a murder charge he allegedly did not commit.
Krasner had recently appointed a new head of the Confusion Integrity Unit: Patricia Cummings, one of the top experts in the United States on chastity. He has found a long history of corruption involving the police and constant prosecution that hides basic evidence to defeat him.
In April 2019, Riddick's lawyer and three Georgetown students met with Cummings and his team to explain why they believed he was innocent.
The following month, Krasner's office turned over more than 1,000 pages to the prosecutor's file - including reports suggesting that Riddick was not one of the suspects in the shooting and unmistakable evidence for Riddick.
The Conviction Integrity Unit eventually signed an agreement to release Riddick from prison, although he was not acquitted.
The agreement was about whether Riddick would plead guilty to murder and be given time off. The Conviction Integrity Unit said on Friday, in addition to presenting evidence, it believed Riddick was involved in Catlett's murder but did not shoot himself.
Dan Slepian and Ron Allen reported from Philadelphia, and Daniel Arkin reported from New York.