|Saturday, December 28, 1996|
District Attorney Lynne Abraham withdrew all charges yesterday against Carter, who was sentenced in 1988 to life in prison for a slaying in a North Philadelphia bar. Abraham did not respond to requests for comment. The chief of the district attorney's Homicide Unit, Charles Gallagher, said the charges were withdrawn ``based on insufficient evidence to retry the case.'' He declined to elaborate.
Common Pleas Court Judge Carolyn Temin, who processed the district attorney's request to drop the charges, ordered Carter released from prison ``forthwith.''
Carter's attorney, Susan Burt, said the only reason Carter was not released immediately was because officials at the prison could not complete the release order until Monday.
Under the terms of the dismissal, prosecutors have six months in which they could reindict Carter on murder charges.
But Burt predicted that the charges would never resurface. She said Carter already was planning to sue the city for wrongful arrest.
``I don't know whether I'll sue now or in six months,'' Burt said after the dismissal yesterday.
For the moment, she and Carter were savoring the victory.
``It's certainly a good result, as good as it can get,'' Burt said.
Carter, a former heroin dealer, maintained from the start that he was framed by the District Attorney's Office and former 39th District Officer Thomas Ryan.
Ryan was indicted in February 1995 on a federal corruption charge and later pleaded guilty. He is serving a 10-month sentence at an undisclosed location.
After Ryan's indictment, questions quickly began to surface about cases he handled.
During the last 22 months, several confessed drug dealers who were arrested by Ryan have gone free. The city paid nearly $1 million to a church-going grandmother after she sued, charging that Ryan helped frame her and send her to prison for three years.
And the Carter case inched its way through the appeals system.
In September, Common Pleas Court Judge Joseph I. Papalini threw out Carter's first-degree murder conviction, stating that it was simply impossible to determine whether Carter shot Robert ``Puppet'' Harris of North Gratz Street at the Pike Bar on Sept. 18, 1986.
The judge said he was ordering a new trial because Ryan had paid the prosecution's star witness, Pamela Jenkins, $500 to testify against Carter.
Ryan was the officer who located Jenkins, the sole eyewitness, after homicide detectives had been unable to find anyone who would identify the alleged killer.
Jenkins testified during Carter's trial that she was living across the street from the Pike Bar, on North 20th Street, when Harris was shot to death. She said she was in the bar and witnessed Carter pick up a gun and fire at Harris from a distance of about three feet.
But Jenkins was not a credible witness, Papalini said, ``specifically
payments of money by Ryan to Jenkins to be a witness against Carter.''
``The commonwealth's case against [ Carter ] was not strong. It relied entirely on the testimony of Pamela Jenkins,'' Papalini wrote. ``There was a singular lack of commonwealth evidence at the trial to support Jenkins' account of the shooting.'' Jenkins, now 31, an admitted cocaine user who said she became Ryan's girlfriend after he arrested her when she was 16, is in jail in Camden on unrelated charges.
The District Attorney's Office said in September that it would retry Carter, and a trial had been scheduled to start Jan. 6.
Privately, however, prosecutors had been offering Carter a deal, lawyer Burt said.
She said prosecutors had offered to let Carter out of jail immediately if he would plead guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter.
Carter refused, insisting he was innocent.
Yesterday, the District Attorney's Office folded its cards.
Prosecutor Gallagher refused to comment on any aspect of the case other than saying there was insufficient evidence to go forward.
Ryan's record in the 39th could spell further difficulty for the district attorney. He was involved in several other high-profile murder cases now being challenged by defense attorneys. His former partner, Jack Baird, has said Ryan finagled his way into homicide investigations because he wanted to get big overtime payments often given in murder cases.
And Ryan appeared to have lied in the Carter case.
He testified in Carter's trial that Jenkins voluntarily came forward as a good citizen. He said he had never arrested her, though Jenkins now says she first met Ryan when he arrested her at Simon Gratz High School in the early 1980s.
It was all too much for Papalini.
In his opinion, the judge wrote that evidence presented in November showed numerous discrepancies in Ryan's and Jenkins' trial testimony. He said the contradictions ``cast doubt on whether Jenkins actually witnessed the murder.''
Papalini said there were ``contradictions relating to the time she arrived at the tavern . . . the color of the murder weapon . . . and her position at the bar,'' and her relationship with Ryan.
``The facts which cast doubt on whether Jenkins actually witnessed the murder are exculpatory in nature and so undermine the truth-determining process so that no reliable adjudication of guilt or innocence could have taken place,'' the judge said.
``Finally, and most importantly, we conclude that if the details of the relationship between Jenkins and Ryan had been revealed to [ the trial judge ] , a different verdict might have resulted.''
Philadelphia Online -- The Philadelphia Inquirer, Page One -- Copyright Saturday, December 28, 1996