A Philadelphia man was exonerated Monday after serving 17 years behind bars in connection with a 2006 murder.
David Sparks, 34, was expected to be freed from state prison in the hours after the decision, the District Attorney’s Office said.
He had been serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole after being convicted in 2008 of murdering 19-year-old Gary Hall in Nicetown.
But the DAO, arguing in favor of the exoneration, said prosecutors in the original case withheld police evidence from Sparks’s attorneys that implicated two other men in the killing. Court of Common Pleas Court Judge Scott DiClaudio agreed to vacate the sentence.
Hall was fatally shot in September 2006 on the 1700 block of Wingohocking Street, according to court records. Officers apprehended Sparks, then 16, nearby for a curfew violation, and he has been incarcerated ever since.
Homicide detectives suppressed witness statements pointing to Ivan Simmons and his brother, identified in a 2018 Inquirer article as Marquise Lawrence, as the shooters, according to the DAO.
Ballistic evidence also linked the gun used in Hall’s murder to the fatal shooting of Larres Curry, who was gunned down a block away a few days prior, prosecutors said. Police believed Simmons and Lawrence to be suspects in Curry’s death.
None of that information was shared during Sparks’s initial trial, and Simmons was shot and killed in December 2016, the DAO said.
Some who witnessed Hall’s homicide told investigators that another man, Nick Walker, was also present during the shooting. Police did not interview Walker, but he discussed the crime while confessing to his role in a 2017 quadruple shooting, prosecutors said.
“This happened right after Ivan killed Gary,” Walker said, according to the DAO. “Money was on my head because I would hang with Ivan.”
The evidence against Sparks relied on inconsistent testimony from two witnesses, who were 14 and 16 years old at the time of the killing, the DAO said. In the years since the 2008 trials, one of the witnesses recanted her testimony, according to prosecutors.
Sparks’s case was profiled in a detailed Inquirer article two years ago, highlighting the plight of juvenile lifers who continue to fight their convictions.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that sentencing a minor to life-without-parole was unconstitutional and, in 2016, ordered that juvenile lifers already incarcerated be resentenced. However, that relief did not apply to those still claiming innocence, the report said.