No Physical Evidence
There is no physical evidence linking Jimmy Dennis to this crime. The getaway car was described by witnesses as a gold or tan 4-door Chevy Malibu or Caprice with a Pennsylvania license plate ending in 988. Jimmy neither owned a car nor had a license. The vehicle used in the crime was never connected in any way to Jimmy, nor was it ever located. The gun used in the crime was never recovered, nor was any gun found among Jimmy's possessions. The gold earrings allegedly stolen from Miss Williams were never found, and there is no evidence that Jimmy ever had them in his possession.
Jimmy's Characteristics Don't Match the Eyewitnesses' Descriptions The evidence against Jimmy was largely dependent on the eyewitness testimony of three people, all strangers to Jimmy: Zahra Howard, Thomas Bertha and James Cameron. All three identified Jimmy as the shooter at the trial, despite the fact that Jimmy's characteristics in 1991 differ significantly from their original descriptions of the shooter.
Zahra Howard, who had accompanied Miss Williams to the Fern Rock Station, told police that the shooter was as tall as or taller than the detective who interviewed her. According to police notes, this meant that the murderer was 5'9" or 5'10. Thomas Bertha, who also witnessed the murder, testified at the trial that he told the police the shooter was 5'9" and weighed approximately 180 pounds.
James Cameron didn't give an estimation of the murderer's height and weight in the original police statement, but information that he provided about the color of the assailant's outer clothing didn't match that of Miss Howard. Mr. Cameron stated that the assailant wore a red sweat suit under a black jacket, but Miss Howard told police that the murderer had on a red sweat suit with white stripes down the sleeves.
Mr. Bertha testified at the preliminary hearing that he saw the shooter's face for just 1 second. Miss Howard testified that she saw the shooter's face for a mere 5 seconds. Mr. Cameron stated at the same hearing that he saw the shooter's face for only 20 seconds.
Jimmy Dennis' height was established at the trial as 5'5" with dress shoes (which the judge noted had heels). The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections website states that Jimmy is 5'4". Jimmy weighed approximately 130 pounds at the time of the murder.
Furthermore, the three witnesses did not view any photo spreads on the day of the murder, but rather a few days later, when their memories wouldn't be nearly as reliable. When Zahra Howard selected Jimmy's photo on October 25, 1991, three days after the murder, she stated, "This one looks like the guy, but I can't be sure." The police detective then asked her, "Can you be sure that this is in fact the guy that shot Chedell?" She answered, "No." When shown a photo spread, James Cameron stated, "Number one looks familiar, but I can't be sure."
Incidentally, the police had incorrectly identified Jimmy as 5'8" on the photograph.
Though James Cameron said that there were as many as 50 witnesses to the crime, only three testified at the trial. Eyewitnesses who were not called to testify at the trial also gave a description of the shooter as much taller and larger than Jimmy. According to police statements, David LeRoy described the assailant as 5'10" and a little taller than the victim. (Chedell Williams was 5'10".) George Ritchie said that the assailants were 5'9" or 5'10" in height and weighed approximately 170-190 pounds. In fact, there isn't a single eyewitness who described the assailant as less than 5'9", nor did any witnesses describe the assailant as shorter than the victim. In addition, witnesses said the shooter had a very dark complexion, unlike Jimmy's lighter complexion.
Even the angle of the bullet wound suggests a murderer who was as tall as or taller than the victim. According to the postmortem report, the direction of the gunshot wound was "rightwards, slightly downwards and backwards".
At the trial, in an attempt to dismiss the eyewitnesses' descriptions, the prosecutor, Roger King, stated, "We're talking about the right to take public transportation...'Cause this is what this case is about, ladies and gentlemen. It's not about race, it's not about size and height."
Jimmy lacked a motive to rob and murder anyone. As a member of the music group "Sensation," Jimmy had a promising future. Elder George Pratt testified at the trial that he was a promoter, producer and manager in the production and entertainment division of G. W. Management Incorporated. He had his own record label. Mr. Pratt testified that at the time of Jimmy's arrest, he had a verbal contract with Jimmy and was in the process of completing a written contract with him to produce gospel music. These facts were uncontested by the prosecution.
The "Sensation" members gave statements and trial testimony that the group practiced singing and dance steps from 4 1/2 to 9 hours every single day.
In addition, Jimmy was looking forward to the birth of a child. His daughter was born about a week after Jimmy was imprisoned; sadly, he has never spent a full day with her.
Charles Thompson Recanted Charles Thompson was a member of Jimmy's singing group "Sensation."
On November 8, 1991, Charles Thompson gave a statement to the police that he had seen Jimmy with a gun on the night of the murder during the singing group's rehearsal. On January 24, 1996, Mr. Thompson retracted his statement and the testimony he gave at the trial, explaining that his original statement was a result of intimidation. He states that he was handcuffed to a chair and badgered for hours by five police officers, who were insisting that he implicate Jimmy or face murder charges himself. He ultimately decided to tell the police officers "what they wanted to hear and just get out and not be charged with anything." Mr. Thompson insists that he had never seen Jimmy with a gun, and that he attempted to retract his statement prior to the trial. He says, "It was in my conscience, I couldn't sleep and get it out of my mind. It was like a monkey on my back." However, Mr. Thompson asserts that the prosecutor told him that nothing could be changed in the statement.
At the time of his statement to the police in 1991, there were assault charges against Mr. Thompson. These charges were dropped prior to Jimmy's trial. At the time of the trial in 1992, Mr. Thompson had been charged with a felony involving drugs. Mr. Thompson confessed in his recantation that he was expecting help with his drug case because he was helping them (the prosecution).
The other members of Jimmy's singing group (Marc Nelson, James Smith, and Willis Meredith) testified at the trial that Mr. Thompson was lying, that they never saw Jimmy with a gun.
It is noteworthy that the police did not immediately arrest Jimmy after obtaining Charles Thompson's statement. This supports Mr. Thompson's assertion that the statement was coerced. While Charles Thompson gave his statement on November 8, 1991, Jimmy was not arrested until November 23. (In fact, any evidence mentioned in the arrest warrant was available to the police as early as October 28.) Though Mr. Thompson's statement would later become a focal point in the trial, there is absolutely no mention of it in the arrest warrant dated November 22, 1991. This also corroborates Mr. Thompson's recantation and insistence that his statement was coerced.
READ CHARLES THOMPSON'S RECANTATION BELOW.
Sensation Members (Jimmy is seated)
Jimmy & Sensation Performing
Statement Given by Charles Thompson on January 24, 1996
Please note that in order to maintain the integrity of the original document, spelling and grammatical errors have been left uncorrected.
Charles Thompson Retracts His Original Police Statement and Testimony at Trial STATEMENT January 24, 1996
Charles Thompson, my name is Karim Shabazz and I am an Investigator hired by attorney Tracy Brandies in the matter of Commonwealth vs. James Dennis. Ware presently in the office of Tracy Brandeis 42 S. 15th Street, Suite 314. I would like to ask you a couple of questions.
Q: Do you agree?
Q: Did you understand that we went to that court room Supreme Court to retract your statement? Did you understand that?
Q: Are you aware that we came late and she finished?
Q: You are aware Ms. Brandeis was waiting for us?
Q: However, you did understand that we were going to meet with Ms. Brandeis in an attempt to retract your statement.
Q: Why do you want to retract your statement?
A: Because there are some things in the statement that are untrue.
Q: I would like you to give me a statement on the matter of Commonwealth vs. James Dennis. Would you give me a statement?
Q: Are you being forced or threatened to give this statement to me?
Q: Are you giving this statement of your own free will and without the promise of anything.
Q: Charles you did accompany me to the Supreme Court today?
Q: You accompanied me there today to retract this statement?
Q: That statement was given by you on November 8, 1991?
Q: You gave this statement to Detective Santiago?
Q: When you were giving your statement on November 8, 1991 you said some things that we will go over, why did you say these things if they were untrue?
A: The reason I was there was because I was arrested that night for an unrelated crime, and the police said if I gave them a statement they probably could help me. After I was seen by the Judge for my case, the Judge in the Roundhouse, they asked me to come upstairs to the Homicide Division.
Q: Is that the same Homicide Division located in the Police Administration Building?
Q: Tell me in your own words what they said to you?
A: We are taking you upstairs, its about your involvement in the Chedell Williams' case.
I said, "I didn't kill anybody."
Q: What did they say to that?
A: They responded they don't know that.
Q: And then what?
A: They let me sit there for 3 hours. Then five cops came into the room and started questioning me.
Q: Were all the police officers asking questions at the same time?
A: No. Two were questioning me.
Q: What did they ask you?
A: They asked me was I there, was I there at the scene of the crime, where was I that night, was I harboring a gun for Mr. Dennis, holding a gun for Mr. Dennis, they just asked me if I knew Jimmy Dennis.
Q: What was your response to, if you knew Jimmy Dennis?
Q: Was it your belief that they were implicating you at this time?
Q: Were you intimidated by those police officers?
Q: Were you scared?
Q: Were you handcuffed?
Q: Were you handcuffed to a chair?
Q: Was that chair bolted to the floor?
Q: Could you go anywhere?
Q: Were you told to go anywhere?
Q: Did the police tell you that if you did not cooperate with them that they would attempt to arrest you for being involved in Chedell Williams murder?
Q: Did they threaten to arrest you?
Q: At that point did you give a statement?
Q: Did you know anything of that shooting?
Q: Were you a witness?
Q: Did you know who did this shooting?
Q: Did anybody tell you who did the shooting?
Q: Did you question Jimmy Dennis of this shooting?
Q: DId Jimmy Dennis give you the impression that he did the shooting?
Q: Did he admit to you that he did this shooting?
A: No he said.
Q: Did the police attempt to give you the impression that Jimmy Dennis had did this?
Q: Did they tell you that he did this?
Q: When the polie officer came in how did you feel, were you handcuffed?
Q: What were you thinking?
A: They may lock me up and I was about to go away for a long time.
Q: Were you at that point under the impression that you were going to get charged with this murder?
Q: At this point how did you feel?
Q: What is your impression at that point that you would have given them any thing they wanted to hear in order to get out of there?
Q: The police didn't touch you did they? Tell me in your own words what they did to you?
A: They said Mother Fucker answer the question, you are never getting out of here. You are going to be here as long as we have you here for a couple of days. I was slouching, I was bumped several times told to sit up, lifted by the shirt, handcuffed to the chair and five (5) cops were around me and I was afraid they would beat the hell out of me while I was handcuffed.
Q: What if anything did they tell you they wanted to hear? What did they want from you?
A: They wanted me to say that he told me that he killed her.--that he actually committed the crime.
Q: What gave you the impression that they wanted you to say he killed her?
A: The main question, that was the main question, didn t he tell you that he killed her, that's your boy we know he told you.
Q: How did they get you to the point to give a statement?
A: After hours of being badgered he went out and came back with paper and said answer these questions.
Q: Did you at any time say to them before he came in with the paper indicating okay, I would cooperate, I would cooperate?
A: No. After all the talking they did to me they just brought in the pape and said answer these questions.
Q: Mr. T. when was the point that you decided that you were going to lie?
A: There was a question that they had asked me.
Q: When the detective was asking these questions at what point did you decide that you were going to lie and tell them what they wanted to hear
A: When he started asking me questions about seeing Jimmy at rehearsal. I guess at that point I figured that I would just say what they wanted them to hear and just get out and not be charged with anthing.
Q: Charles when you were saying the things that were not true, did in fact you know that they were not true?
Q: When you said these things were any of these things true?
Q: I am going to read you certain portions of your statement and I want you to tell me if these are true.
Q: Did you talk to Jimmy during rehearsal?
A: I asked him if he heard about that girl. And he said what girl? I said, the girl that got shot at the subway. Jimmy said, what subway."
Q: What that true?
Q: Then you go on to say "I said Jimmy, I heard you did it.
Q: Was that true?
Q: How did you know that wasn't true?
A: Because I knew at that point that I was going to add in what the cops wanted to hear.
Q: Then you said in the statement on page 5 you were asked when Jimmy Dennis told you that he didn't have anything to do with the girl's murder did you believe him. The answer says I don't believe anything Jimmy tells me." Is that what you said?
Q: What did you say?
A: I don't believe anything anybody tells me unless I see it with my own eyes.
Q: Q: They wrote it down as you said that you don't believe anything Jimmy tells me, although you didn't say that?
Q: Did you see Jimmy as some sort of bullshitter con man?
Q: As a matter of fact you and Jimmy were pretty good friends?
Q: Do you think that Jimmy was a bullshitter and you wouldn't believe anything he said?
Q: Why not?
A: Because I was close with him, I knew him, he was up front. We didn't agree on our music sometimes but we agreed on everything else.
Q: How often did you see Jimmy?
A: Every day.
Q: How many hours?
A: Five to nine hours a day, rehearsals everyday.
Q: On page 6 or your statement you said when asked have you seen Jimmy Dennis, Rodney Johns or Derrick with guns on the projects you answered, Yes. Jimmy used to walk around with a 12 gauge and a 38 revolver silver. Is that part of your statement true?
A: No. I don't even know what a 38 revolver looks like.
Q: My question to you is first of all did you ever see Jimmy with a gun of any kind?
Q: Secondly, you tell the police this?
A: I see those guns on TV and hear their names on TV.
Q: And why did you pick out 12 gauge, if you recall?
A: I heard people talk about it, I even know what it looks like.
Q: What was in your mind at that point for you to be saying things that were untrue if never saw Jimmy with a gun? and then you said you saw him with two guns.
A: I just wanted to get out of there because they said I was a suspect and I figured I would take it back once I got out of there. I figured I would take it back once I got out of there.
They were telling me before the statement that "other people" had seen him with the guns, with two guns, a revolver and a shotgun.
They told me to come on you saw him with them. We have five statements that he has this type of gun and this type of gun and you saw him with this type of gun. Didn't you? You saw him with those guns didn't you?
They had a stack of papers in there and they were acting like the papers were the five different statements. That these people in the statements saw him with those guns, now they were saying to me, come on now you saw him with those guns. At that point I was willing to agree with those "other people" (who never existed but I didn't know that yet) I just wanted to get the hell out of there and not be locked up.
Q: I am asking you now under no pressure did you in your whole life ever see Jimmy with any guns?
Q: Testimony says, "the night of the murder when you were at the rehearsal did you see any guns on Jimmy Dennis? A: Yes. I saw him with a silver .38, he pulled it out when we were out side." Charles I ask you again is this the truth?
A: No. The police said to me before they wrote down this question, the other people on the statements, witnessed him flashing the gun so I agreed with them.
Q: Do you know if Jimmy ever fired this gun?
A: No. I never saw him with a gun.
Q: In court when you testified I am going to show you page 67, of the transcript where Mr. King asked you if you had an open charge and whether anyone promised you anthing about this open charge at that time you made the statement. And you said No.
Q: Why was that?
A: That open case didn't occur until months after the statement was given.
Q: You were asked were you expecting help from this case? You answered No.
Q: Did you expect any help?
A: Yes, I was expecting help.
Q: Why were you expecting help?
A: Because I was helping them. Because Roger King said it would look good for me.
Q: Mr. Thompson were you told at some time to see the District Attorney Roger King before trial?
Q: What if anything was your intention at that time?
A: To recant what I said try to straighten it out.
A: It was in my conscious, I couldn't sleep and get it out of my mind, it was like a monkey on my back. I was thinking I can't do this I have to straighten this out when I go see Roger King.
Q: And when you went to see Roger King, did you recant it?
A: Roger King said to me specifically that day that at this point in time nothing can be changed with what the statement said and he repeated it twice. So then I really felt that I couldn't say anything. I was intimidated by Mr. King. His [not legible]gression, undescribable. Right away he started to say I know you young boys and you all hang out with criminals.
Q: At trial Mr. King said to you that when you saw Mr. Dennis at the singing rehearsal did you see anthing in his possession? (Page 60). And you answered No.
Q: Were you attempting to tell the truth?
A: Yes. I decided at that time I needed to tell the truth, I needed to say what happened that night.
Q: And then Roger King immediately, aggressively impeached you with your statement (page 60-61). But the statement was not correct?
Q: In fact Mr. King entered that statement into evidence. (page 66) Then Mr. King persisted further and at that point asked you if the gu that he had (which although the real gun was never found this gun in court was the gun that was used by the Prosecutor to show what the gun would have looked like) the gun that Roger King had in court "looked like the same gun that you saw Jimmy with and you answered. Yes.
Q: Was any of that true?
Q: At that point why did you say yes? Why did you go back and forth?
A: Scared, confused, mind boggling, terrified.
Q: So I ask, you lied on the stand because you were afraid as Mr. King was impeaching you and getting you nervous, after you tried to say the truth?
A: Exactly, I was terrified.
Q: Have you ever at any time on any occasion anywhere ever saw James Dennis in possession or brandishing a gun (firearm).
Q: So the statements that you gave and the testimony given in court are untrue? Is that correct?
Q: Are you willing to testify in court of law if there were to be a New trial or an evidentiary hearing on your retraction?
Q: Is there anything else that you can tell me regarding this matter.
Q: Is there anything else you wish to add to this statement?
Q: Are you willing to take a lie detector test to prove the truthfulness of this statement?
[signed] Charles Thompson 1/24/96
[stamped] Jeraldine V. Craw Commissioner of Deeds Commonwealth of Pennsylvania