Neirin Gray Desai, Daily Mail, December 21, 2022
A father-of-six who spent 25 years on death row in Philadelphia was fatally shot while attending a funeral less than two years after being exonerated and acquitted of his crimes.
Christopher Williams, 62, was killed while attending the funeral of a fellow inmate on Friday afternoon, just 22 months after his release from state prison in February 2021.
Williams was convicted of six murders, including one triple murder in 1989, but freed after almost 30 years in prison when his final murder charge was tossed because evidence of prosecutorial misconduct came to light.
Williams was part of a funeral procession for formerly incarcerated friend Tyree Little in Philadelphia, his friends told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
As he stepped out of his car on the 3000 block of Lehigh Avenue at around 2.20pm he was shot once in the head. Police rushed him to Temple University Hospital but he was pronounced dead less than half an hour later.
Police are yet to arrest anyone for the murder and it is not yet clear why Williams was a target.
Williams spent his life between the age of 29 and 61 in prison – 25 of those on death row. He was freed when a District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit reviewed his case and found lying informants, prosecutorial misconduct, and hidden exculpatory evidence.
The DA’s office later said in court that the case against him was ‘built on a house of cards,’ involving incorrect informant testimony, extensive undisclosed evidence, and forensic evidence that directly contradicted an informant’s story.
‘Never in the history of the Pennsylvania judicial system has someone been charged with six murders, acquitted of two and now exonerated of four,’ Williams said upon his release.
Between his release and his unfortunate death Williams worked as a carpenter and had ambitions to start his own construction company, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
He had already accomplished some of his goals, which included buying a pickup truck and purchasing a house under his own name.
Pennsylvania is among a minority of states that do not offer compensation for wrongfully convicted people. However, Philadelphia has paid out close to $10 million to some like Williams who served 25 or more years in prison.
In December 2021 he filed a lawsuit in a US District Court in Philadelphia, naming the city, former District Attorney Lynne Abraham, trial prosecutor David Desiderio, and 17 police detectives as defendants.
Since then his lawsuit remained pending.
‘What brings me happiness is my spirit being at peace, and right now it’s not,’ he said in February.
‘Out here, life is running a hundred times faster than up in that cage and you have to stay on pace or else,’ he said.
Williams also spent much of his time as a free man reconnecting with the family members he had been separated from for so long.
His youngest son Christopher Hartwell said Williams had managed to maintain a relationship with him even while incarcerated.
He told the Inquirer of how his father recently asked for help with a carpentry job but later realized it had just been an excuse for them to spend time together.
‘He was the man of the family even when he wasn’t here, when he was in jail,’ said Hartwell. ‘He touched everybody he talked to.’
Williams’s death has left fellow exonerees concerned for their own safety, having spent decades in prison.
Theophalis ‘Bilal’ Wilson, Williams’s co-defendant in the triple murder told the Inquirer: ‘Although we’re actually innocent, not everyone believes it.’
‘I spent 28 years in jail for knowing him,’ he said. ‘I have to be on guard.’