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It took just over three years and the sacrifice of thousands of otherwise billable hours before a three-lawyer team from Wolf Block Schorr & Solis-Cohen was able to overturn the murder conviction and death sentence of 48-year-old Southwest Philadelphia native Anthony Fletcher. But anything less might not have resulted in success, according to partner Joseph C. Crawford and associates Lindsey B. Pockers and Jarett B. Decker. Fletcher, a former professional boxer, was 36 years old when he was accused of murdering Vaughn Christopher, Crawford said. According to local media reports on the case, the police concluded that Fletcher intentionally shot Christopher over a drug debt. Fletcher had previously been convicted of a drug-related offence, Crawford said. Christopher was shot in the leg and in the side. A local woman who allegedly witnessed the incident gave testimony that supported the theory that Fletcher was proactive in Christopher’s shooting, firing at Christopher with his own gun as Christopher fled from a distance of at least eight feet, Decker said. But Fletcher had always given a different account of the incident. He claimed that Christopher had robbed him several days earlier. On the day of the shooting, Fletcher claimed, he had seen Christopher on the street and confronted him. After Christopher pulled a gun, a struggle ensued, and Fletcher managed to wrap his finger around the weapon’s trigger and fire twice. At Fletcher’s trial, Decker said, Dr. Hydrow Park, the medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Christopher’s body, did not make an appearance. Instead, another examiner, Dr. Ian Hood, reviewed Park’s notes and testified in his place. According to Decker, Hood testified that the entrance trajectories of the bullets found in Christopher’s body supported the witness’s version of the shooting. He also stated that a bruise just below Christopher’s left pectoral was most likely caused by the internal bouncing of one of the bullets. But in May 2001, Pockers and Decker tracked down Park, who had left Philadelphia for a job in the medical examiner’s office in Atlantic County, N.J. After reviewing his notes, Park refuted Hood’s claim that the bruise had been caused internally, saying that it was consistent with blunt force trauma, and concluded that the trajectories of the bullets pointed to a close struggle, as opposed to a shooting from a multi-feet distance. Fletcher’s original trial counsel never interviewed Park, Crawford said. By the time the three attorneys brought the new evidence to a September 2003 post-conviction hearing, Fletcher had unsuccessfully pursued post-trial motions, appeals to the state Supreme Court and requests to the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. In an order dated Feb. 26, Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge John M. Younge vacated Fletcher’s conviction and death sentence. In so holding, Younge cited the lack of Park’s testimony during Fletcher’s original trial. “The court finds defense counsel has met their burden and proven by a preponderance of the evidence that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to present the expert testimony of Dr. Hydrow Park,” Younge stated, according to transcripts of his conference with counsel before he entered his decision. Crawford noted that Fletcher’s trial counsel, a private attorney appointed by the court, was allotted $500 for pre-trial investigations, while Wolf Block footed a $50,000 bill over the course of its representation. “We literally have a system in Pennsylvania where proper investigation [for death penalty cases] doesn’t get done, and private firms like ours absorb the cost to make sure it gets done,” Crawford said. The three attorneys first heard about the case from Robert Dunham of the Defender Association of Philadelphia’s capital habeas corpus unit. Dunham was looking for large-firm lawyers who wanted to take on a death penalty case pro bono. At the same time, Crawford said, Fletcher wrote a Wolf Block partner, requesting assistance with his case. The three attorneys, who all work in the firm’s business litigation group, volunteered to work on Fletcher’s case. Crawford said that he has spent roughly 800 hours on the case over the past three years. Pockers said that she and Decker had each devoted upwards of 1,000 hours. Crawford said that two events personalized the case for him. Soon after he began working on the case, he learned that a security guard in Wolf Block’s building is a relative of the Fletcher family’s. Later, he found out that his deceased father-in-law had worked as Fletcher’s cut-man during the convict’s boxing days. For most of his 11 years on death row, Fletcher has been housed at the Green County State Correctional Institution in Waynseburg, roughly six hours’ drive from Philadelphia, Crawford said. He is confined to his cell 23 hours a day. Fletcher is still in prison. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office must now either appeal Younge’s decision to the state Supreme Court, retry the case or release Fletcher. Last year, Pockers and Decker both received a Pro Bono Award from the Pennsylvania Bar Association for their work on the Fletcher case.

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