Christopher Williams, a man who was exonerated this year after spending 25 years on death row, filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the city of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Police Department, former city prosecutors and 17 police detectives or their estates.
Williams is “seeking justice for over 30 years he spent as an innocent man on death row,” the lawsuit filing stated. Williams was working as a carpenter when he was charged with six homicides that occurred in the late 1980s. At trial, he was acquitted of two, but convicted of four other homicides.
He was released on February 9 this year after the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit reviewed his case and found prosecutorial misconduct, including secret deals inducing informants to lie, WHYY reported. Williams’ lawsuit levels 82 counts against the defendants, including malicious prosecution, supervisory liability, failure to intervene, and discrimination.
Former assistant district attorney David E. Desiderio and some Philadelphia detectives “covered-up evidence, buried leads, and fabricated evidence to arrest and convict Mr. Williams and others,” the lawsuit alleged. Desiderio has in the past denied any allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday outside of Philadelphia Municipal Court, Williams’ attorney, Ben Crump, said, “We have to be honest enough to say that we have to improve our system, America. We must be better than what happened to Chris Williams.”
“You can only imagine the psychological trauma that he endured, knowing that he was an innocent man, but yet the government was within days of killing him for a crime he did not commit. If there’s anybody who deserves justice it is Chris Williams. What is the price for stealing his life?”
Williams is the 167th person exonerated from death row in the United States since 1973 and the seventh in Pennsylvania, according to ABC News. He has six children, 26 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. He didn’t see any of his grandchildren come into the world.
“I spent 25 years on death row and I was convicted of three homicides. I had three death penalties and one life sentence. There were times where … I didn’t know if I was coming home, but I never gave up,” Williams said Wednesday.
“I am aware that not only has this happened to me, but this has happened to other individuals, Black and brown, male and female, and who may not have a voice,” he added.
Williams has vowed to never give up on individuals whom he has left behind in prison. “It’s my privilege to not only speak up on the behalf of them but to be their voice,” he said.
Crump, who also represented the families of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, said he planned to ask the jury for $100 million in compensatory and punitive damages.