Philadelphia Man Reunited with Family After a Decade In Prison as Local Homicide Detective’s Misconduct Continues to Cause Wrongful Convictions to be Overturned

A Philadelphia man is the second person this week to be freed from serving time for a wrongful murder conviction tied a former Philadelphia police detective. Chris Goodwin has been behind bars for more than a decade for the 2011 murder of Dwayne “Shank” Isaacs in South Philadelphia.

In July 2022, U.S. District Judge Timothy Savage overturned Goodwin’s 2013 conviction because it was found that his case was built on recanted statements by two witnesses that were abused by former homicide detective James Pitts.

Detective James Pitts 2022 mugshot. (Photo: Screenshot from NBC 10 Philadelphia Twitter account)

Savage found that Philadelphia prosecutors withheld Pitts’ record of misconduct that dated back to 2002, along with internal affairs findings that questioned his credibility and ordered for prosecutors to release or retry Goodwin.

This week the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office dropped the charges after conceding it no longer had enough evidence to prosecute Goodwin, and he was released from prison on Thursday, Feb. 16.

Indian Spellman was freed earlier this week after being incarcerated for more than a decade. It was alleged that she killed a World War II veteran as a teenager. Pitts coerced her to sign a confession without her parents permission or consent.

The Philadelphia Inquirer featured Goodwin’s case along with others in 2021 article that outlined the misconduct and wrongdoings of Pitts. He has been connected to at least 10 cases that have been dropped, overturned, or dismissed.

Obina Onyiah was exonerated in 2021 based on expert analysis that concluded he was not the gunman in a 2010 murder and robbery. Pitts beat him until he confessed to the crime and he spent 11 years in prison. Philadelphia has paid out more than $3 million in lawsuit settlements involving the detective.

In March 2022, a grand jury found Pitts to have employed “habitually coercive interrogation techniques.” He was arrested and is facing two counts of perjury and three counts of obstructing administration of law behind Onyiah wrongful murder conviction.

Goodwin mentioned that the Philadelphia District Attorney office opposed his petitions for years and called them meritless. Prosecutors agreed that his conviction was unconstitutional and dropped all his charges on Thursday, conceding that they did not have enough evidence to retry Goodwin.

“There is a constitutional violation, and this is a wrongful conviction,” Katherine Ernst, the incoming supervisor of the DA’s federal litigation unit, said.

Goodwin told the Philadelphia Inquirer he was grateful to be reunited with his family and 13-year-old daughter, but angry at the broken justice system.

“It shows that there’s no accountability,” Goodwin said. “It took me all these years to fight these issues, and [this evidence] was in their face the whole time.”

Andre Cunningham, one of the witnesses in Goodwin’s case, said in a 2021 interview that Pitts choked him, threw him around so much it tore his shirt, and left him in the interview room so long that he fell asleep.

He woke up to phone books being slammed next to his head. After 18 hours of interrogation, Cunningham was then forced to sign a statement that he knew wasn’t true about Goodwin. He also mentioned in the interview that Goodwin was innocent because he saw him sitting on a nearby stoop during at the time of the shooting.

Detectives Thomas Gaul and John Verrecchio testified in court that there had been no coercion or physical abuse. The two detectives also testified in Onyiah trial and both are facing the same charges as Pitts. Detective Ohmarr Jenkins is the fourth detective identified and faces perjury charges .

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