Hicks was in South Philadelphia on the early morning of November 27, 2001, when he heard a woman screaming. The woman had been dragged into an alley where she was badly beaten and raped. Hicks quickly went to help her, entering the alley just before police showed up. A witness had called 911 to report the incident and described the assailant as wearing a “gray hoodie covering his head.” Police arriving on the scene immediately assumed Hicks was the perpetrator and shot him three times in the back. Only then did officers notice Hicks was unarmed and did not match the description provided by the witness who had called 911.
Almost two decades later, after Hicks was convicted of the four crimes, including rape and aggravated assault, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office finally admitted that the lead officers conspired to provide perjured trial testimony in an effort to cover-up their mistaken shooting. The officers decided to send an innocent man to prison rather than admit their misconduct.
At trial, the officers falsely claimed that Hicks pulled a gun, pointed it at them, and then lunged prior to the officers discharging their firearms. Two separate examinations of the entry wounds in Hicks’ back proved he never turned around and was clearly shot in the back. The officers also claimed the gun found at the scene belonged to Hicks. It didn’t. The gun belonged to a different off-duty Philadelphia police officer and was placed at the scene by the officers. They then testified that Hicks was wearing a hoodie, like the suspect. However, no hoodie was found at the scene. Finally, detectives hid surveillance video footage until after the trial clearly showing the actual perpetrator and then later Hicks entering the alley – and he was not wearing a hoodie.
Many of the officers involved had extensive and documented histories of lying, planting evidence, and using excessive force. A National Registry of Exonerations study found that since 1989 over 35% of all exonerations of wrongful convictions involved police misconduct.
Vanessa Potkin, who represented Hicks, said, “Mr. Hicks’ case is yet another example of the pervasive problem of police perjury in the criminal legal system.... Deep-seated police misconduct and institutional protections are too often the source of wrongful convictions and injustice in the system.”
Potkin is director of post-conviction litigation at the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. Hicks’ case was dismissed through a mutual effort between the Innocence Project and the Philadelphia Conviction Integrity Unit.
In 2015, Hicks was considered for parole but was denied when he insisted he was innocent. Hicks said he is most proud of himself for staying strong and remaining determined to prove his innocence. Hicks added, “There were moments, but I did not give up.”
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