Shaky testimony puts man in jail for life
Paul Ford's mother holds her imprisoned picture
Joey Jones told seven people he shot a man dead outside a Monview Heights tenement and he matched the description two others gave of the killer, but, on the witness stand, Mr. Jones pointed the finger at Paul Ford Jr.
Crack addict Nikela Carrington told police she watched Mr. Ford rob and kill a man that day in 1994, but she was in her apartment, where a neighboring building would have blocked her view.
Nicole Bennett, a friend of Ms. Carrington's and a fellow drug user, denied seeing the shooting for six days, then told police she saw Mr. Ford pull the trigger and later admitted conspiring with Ms. Carrington to extort money from Mr. Ford by threatening to say that he did it.
No forensic evidence tied Mr. Ford to the killing.
The only witnesses against him were Mr. Jones, Ms. Carrington and Ms. Bennett, all admitted liars.
But seven people, including two jail guards, said Mr. Jones confessed to the killing. Two witnesses said they saw a man matching Mr. Jones' description flee the shooting and dispose of the weapon, but they never were called to testify.
Mr. Ford was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.
Twelve years later, the Post-Gazette and Innocence Institute of Point Park University investigated the case and found that police ignored evidence which pointed away from Mr. Ford and might have got the wrong man, just as Mr. Ford has maintained all along.
Mr. Ford, a street-level drug dealer, admitted being at the scene of the killing with some associates but denied involvement in it.
He believes he was targeted because of his illegal activities and the fact that, eight years before, his father had shot the lead detective in the investigation. Allegheny County Police Detective Gary Tallent, who is now retired, had survived two shots to the chest during a 1986 hostage siege because he was wearing a bulletproof vest.
Prosecutors have prevailed in Mr. Ford's appeals and have repeatedly denied improprieties in the investigation. Detective Tallent, his superiors in the police department and Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. did not respond to written requests for their views on this case.
Mr. Ford, from his cell at the State Correctional Institution at Frackville, continues to maintain his innocence and closes his letters with: "I have committed no crime, a crime has been committed against me."
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This article was written by Bill Moushey, director of the Innocence Institute at Point Park University. Two graduate students, Elizbeth Perry and Sara Wolfe, also contributed to this article.