City Councilman David Oh on Wednesday filed a petition with Gov. Tom Wolf seeking to pardon long-incarcerated Eric Riddick due to “evidence obtained after his conviction” that proves he did not murder his childhood friend.
In June, Oh led Council in adopting a resolution calling on Wolf to pardon Riddick, who has been in jail since 1992, when he was convicted of the 1991 shooting of William Catlett. The filing of the petition formally begins the pardon process, which can take two to three years.
“This is the first time that a petition has been filed for the governor to pardon Eric Riddick,” Oh spokesman Matthew Pershe said.
Filing a petition is necessary in this case because under Pennsylvania’s Post–Conviction Relief Act (PPCRA), evidence that Oh contends proves Riddick’s innocence is prevented from being considered by a judge on appeal.
Oh became interested in Riddick’s case after a spring meeting with Riddick’s mother. He saw new evidence — the lone witness recanting his story three times, alibi witnesses not being permitted to testify at the first trial — that could have changed the verdict had the PPCRA not prevented new evidence from being introduced on appeal.
“There is clearly evidence that indicates this is an innocent man,” Oh said, “but it can’t be introduced in court on appeal. I’m certain the governor will recognize the evidence is exonerating.”
When Catlett was murdered the night of Nov. 6, 1991, Riddick was two blocks away with three friends, he said. He has never backed away from that claim and friends have corroborated it. However, Riddick’s court-appointed lawyer never called Riddick’s friends to testify and never put on a defense.
“He was right here with us, that’s how I don’t understand how he got involved in that,” neighborhood friend Justine Dawson told NBC News. “They never gave us a chance to come into the courtroom.”
Instead, the entire trial hinged on the testimony of lone eyewitness Shawn Stevenson. Stevenson identified Riddick as the shooter and told police he saw Riddick fire a rifle from a fire escape. However, Stevenson recanted that story seven years later in an affidavit, writing in 1999, “I, Shawn Stevenson, falsely accused Eric Riddick of the murder of William Catlett.”
Riddick has said he did not physically receive the affidavit until 2003, and by the time he filed an appeal it was too late. Under PPCRA, sentence appeals have a one-year filing deadline. If new evidence is obtained, it must be filed within 60 days. His appeal was denied.
Ballistics evidence also has cast doubt on Riddick’s guilt. In 2012, a firearms expert said Catlett had been shot by two different caliber bullets, indicating the probability that there were two shooters rather than one.
The Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office also wrote that any shots fired from an elevated (fire escape) area would have a downward trajectory as they entered Catlett’s body. According to the report, four of the five bullets that entered Catlett’s body had an upward trajectory.
Last December, Superior Court Senior Judge James Fitzgerald III wrote that the case against Riddick made clear that “it is likely that an innocent man sits behind bars for no better reason than a poorly conceived statute.”