Philly man who spent decade in prison freed after conviction vacated

Donte Rollins has spent a third of his life behind bars for shooting and paralyzing a 6-year-old boy; he walked out of a Center City courthouse Wednesday as a free man.

An appellate court ordered Rollins’ release after reviewing compelling evidence that he had nothing to do with the 2008 crime.

Rollins’s mother, aunt and supporters broke out into applause as he walked out of the courthouse a free man.

“Hell, pure hell,” was how Rollins, 29, described his decade in prison. “I’m still a little upset because it should never have happened, but thanks to my lawyers and my family who stuck with me and supported me through everything, it’s finally over, so I’ll be cool.”

Rollins said that he just wants to spend time with his family, get something to eat and get to take a warm bath.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, defense lawyer Michael Wiseman and representatives from the Pennsylvania Innocence Project worked to secure his release.

Williams announced Wednesday morning that prosecutors were withdrawing all charges.

“Today’s decision is the right ruling and it reminds us that we must always be vigilant, and we cannot and should not be afraid to question ourselves, question our decisions and even question the guilt of someone who has been convicted,” Williams said in a statement.

“Liberty is one of the inalienable rights of each American as enunciated in the Declaration of Independence, written and signed just blocks from where we stand today,” he continued. “We must be certain if we are going to take it from someone.”

Rollins’ release comes seven months after his conviction was called into question by the district attorney’s office.

In April, Williams said the conviction “cannot stand because although multiple witnesses, videotapes, receipts, and cell phone records establish Mr. Rollins was several miles away from the shooting, the jury heard and saw virtually none of that evidence,” according to the Pennsylvania Innocence Project.

But Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Rayford Means refused the D.A.’s request for a new trial.

“Luckily, the Superior Court recognized the injustice and — again with the agreement of the district attorney — summarily reversed the trial court and vacated Mr. Rollins’ conviction,” Marissa Boyers Bluestine, legal director of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, said in a statement. “We are thrilled he will spend the holidays with his loving family.”

Rollins was identified as being seen near the scene of the January 2006 shooting, which left Jabar Wright, then 6 years old, a quadriplegic. His grandfather was believed to be the intended target.

Rollins was convicted of attempted murder and other offenses and sentenced in 2008 to a maximum of 125 years in prison,despite efforts by the family to introduce what they considered exculpatory evidence, including surveillance video footage of Rollins elsewhere at the time of the shooting and receipts proving he was shopping at the time, according But that evidence was not introduced at trial, according to the Pennsylvania Innocence Project.

“I wasn’t there,” Rollins said Wednesday after being freed, adding that he had just gone down to South Street to buy a new sweatshirt. “It was a regular day. I came home, seen cops and got arrested. I wasn’t expecting it.”

Asked about his plans for life after incarceration, Rollins was blunt:”As long as I ain’t in jail, I don’t care. I’ll be doing something. Being productive with my life.”

Rollins is the sixth person exonerated after working with the Pennsylvania Innocence Project.