With support from the District Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU), a black Philadelphia man was freed from jail on Thursday, July 29, after spending more than 30 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.
After being charged with robbing and killing a South Philadelphia store owner named Il Man Heo in 1984, Curtis Crosland was sentenced to life in prison in 1991.
On the statements of two informants, Rodney Everett and Delores Tilghman, the conviction was made. Everett and Tilghman, who lied against Crosland to receive mercy in their own cases, later recanted their statements.
Crosland was linked to the crime by Everett and Tilghman’s allegations only and he was not linked to the murder by any means, physical or otherwise, which was discovered by CIU.
The CIU also found that the evidence proving Crosland’s innocence had been kept on file by the Philadelphia police department and district attorney’s office the whole time.
In her three-page statement freeing Crosland, federal court Judge Anita B. Brody noted that it broke the “Brady Rule,” which demands all material to be transferred to the defense.
Heo’s children were grateful that the CIU was still seeking fairness for their father’s death, according to a news release from the CIU.
“Make us proud of the justice system by always questioning its integrity with respect to equity.” Heo’s son said in a statement obtained by the CIU.
Crosland’s story is another example that the criminal justice system in the United States should be improved, he said according to CNN. While in prison, he defended his innocence and submitted numerous appeals on his own behalf. He said he learned to do such things while researching law books in the prison library.
“You have poor, indigent men that have no access to have a good defense. The system should be designed that every man be treated equally,” Crosland claimed.
He added that he went to court yearly while in prison to prove he was not guilty, but the courts refused to hear him.
Although every day in prison was a “hellish” battle, Crosland stated that his trust in God made him strong. “I always told myself the day I’m exonerated I’m going to get my full night’s sleep,” Crosland recalled.
Crosland was reunited with his five children, fiancée, and 32 grandchildren when he came home. “It’s a great feeling to still be dad, to be wanted and desired, and open arms to receive you, that’s been the greatest part of being exonerated, that I come home to a loving family that wants and needs me,” Crosland said.
According to the CIU, Crosland’s release is the 22nd exoneration the organization has assisted since its foundation in 2018. He was one of 67 people who have been exonerated in 2021, the National Registry of Exonerations’ data reported.