Incarceration Nation

Shorty Wins Again!

By Mumia Abu-Jamal

It’s been several years since Jimmy Dennis, known to his fellow denizens of Death Row as “Shorty,” was granted a new trial by a U.S. Federal District court.

In 2013, Judge Anita Brody granted Shorty’s writ of habeas corpus, ordering a new trial or his release from custody in 140 days or so. The District Attorney of Philadelphia went on a prosecutorial rampage, and a three-judge panel of the 3rd Circuit Appeals Court reversed, and reinstated his conviction and death sentence.

Again, Shorty awaited his fate—and, just hours ago, the full appellate court, in a rare en banc decision, reinstated his habeas corpus writ again and re-opened the door to his freedom.

In order to do so, the court had to find that the DA used false testimony to send Shorty to Death Row, and secured an unjust conviction, for their political ambitions.

Shorty was convicted of killing an attractive young high school student in view of some half a dozen witnesses, in broad daylight. The problems with this conviction were many, among them a credible alibi defense, meaning he wasn’t at the crime scene, and two, his nickname, which was demonstrative of his modest height.

Most eyewitnesses to the killing described an assailant over a foot taller than Shorty. This was noted because the victim was a relatively tall woman—noticeably taller than Shorty.

Oh—that alibi?  Shorty told investigators that he saw an acquaintance on the bus in another part of town at the time of the killing, around 1:00 P.M. or so. The woman reported to police that she saw Shorty as she got on the bus. She showed police her receipt from the welfare office. The receipt showed she arrived there around 1:00 P.M.

Here’s the problem: when the woman testified, she was asked about 1300 hours—or military time. Not understanding that 1300 hours means 1:00 P.M., the prosecutor got her to say the time was around 3:00 P.M., a time that the receipt didn’t show!

The court en banc majority, nine judges, voted to grant the writ, and ordered a new trial. Four judges opposed.

James “Shorty” Dennis, after nearly a quarter of a century on Death Row, is closer to home, and to his long walk to freedom.

—August 23, 2016