New York Times; Dec 21, 1976; pg. 20
New Trial Granted for Man Convicted of Murder
PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 20 (AP)-A judge opened the way today for a new trial for Robert Wilkinson, who was convicted of murder and jailed for 439 days in a firebombing to which another man since has pleaded guilty.
Judge John Geisz of Common Pleas Court overturned the previous verdict and gave the district attorney's office 120 days to decide whether Mr. Wilkinson will be retried.
Judge Geisz ruled after hearing testimony at a special hearing from Nelson Garcia, 16 years old, who testified at Mr. Wilkinson's trial that he saw the defendant throw a firebomb into the home of Radames Santiago. The man's wife and three children, as well as the son of .a neighbor, were killed in the bombing in October 1975.
Mr. Garcia has since recanted his testimony.
A federal grand jury has indicted three men in the case, and one, David McGinnis, 19, has pleaded guilty.
After Mr. McGinnis pleaded guilty. Judge Geisz reduced Mr. Wilkinson's bail and he was freed on bond last Thursday.
New York Times; Nov 11, 1979; pg. 52
FIREBOMBING IN 1975 FINALLY CLEARED UP
Wrong Man Is Freed From Prison
PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 10 (AP) - At approximately 3:20 A.M. on Sunday, Oct. 5, 1975, a flaming whisky bottle with a diaper for a wick shattered the front window of the rowhouse where Radames Santiago lived.
The huge flash of flame killed his wife, three of his children and a young male house guest, victims of the racial heat in the Kensington section of the city that Indian summer.
More than four years later, on Thursday, six homicide detectives who had worked on the case began 15-month prison terms at the Eglin Federal Prison Camp in Florida. They had been convicted of violating the civil rights of witnesses and suspects brought in after the firebombing.
The detectives, who appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court and lost, have maintained their innocence and refuse to discuss the case with reporters, as does Police Commissioner Joseph O'Neill.
A Neighbor Accused
Just after the incident, a 14-year-old boy told police he had seen Robert Wilkinson, a neighbor, toss the flaming bottle. While the fire was still smoldering, Mr. Wilkinson, then 25, his wife, Christine, and several neighbors were rounded up. The questioning went for 20 hours.
Eventually Mr. Wilkinson confessed to a crime that he had not committed. He would spend almost 15 months in jail.
In court, he described the interrogation:
"I was sitting in the metal chair and the big colored guy came in, and he takes his rings off his fingers, he stuck them in his pocket and he slapped me across the face."
Mr. Wilkinson, who is mildly retarded, testified later that he had been blackjacked and stomped. He said two detectives had told him that if he did not sign a confession, "I would never see Chris again, or my baby, or anything."
In another room was Ronald Hanley, 39, who later testified that the officers insisted he tell them that he had made the firebomb and given it to Mr. Wilkinson.
Struck `40 or 50 Times'
Mr. Hanley told a judge that he had been struck on the ribs and chest "at least 40 or 50 times," that he had been punched and "crumpled to the floor."
Mr. Hanley, saying he "just couldn't handle it no more," told the police that he had given the bomb to Mr. Wilkinson.
He had not. Four other neighbors would later tell The Philadelphia Inquirer that they also had been coerced into giving false statements.
Some 24 hours after the investigation began, police had their "evidence." Mr. Wilkinson, who had turned in the alarm and helped uncoil firehoses on the night of the fire, was charged with five murders. So was Mr. Hanley, but charges were dropped when his statement was ruled inadmissible because he had been beaten by police.
Prosecutors produced the 14-year-old boy, Nelson Garcia, who said he had seen Mr. Wilkinson throw the firebomb. The jury believed him; Mr. Wilkinson was convicted in April 1976.
Statement to U.S. Authorities
What the prosecutors did not reveal was that David McGinnis, who also lived in the Kensington neighborhood, who would later tell Federal authorities that he had hurled the firebomb, had come forward to declare his guilt - and to assert that Mr. Wilkinson was innocent.
One of the prosecutors, David Berman, testified later that he had thrown away a tape recording of Mr. McGinnis's statement. He called It "nothing but garbage, a pack of lies."
At the urging of Puerto Rican citizens, Federal prosecutors began another investigation. They arrested Mr. Hanley and Mr. McGinnis, but found nothing to implicate Mr. Wilkinson.
Then the case began to unravel. Nelson Garcia admitted that he had lied. He said that after the firebomb was thrown, he saw Mr. Wilkinson jump into his car and speed off-apparently in search of a fire alarm.
"I don't know why I said it," the youth said of his accusation of Mr. Wilkinson.
Confession Thrown Out
Mr. Wilkinson's confession was thrown out by a judge who ruled that the defendant was not capable of reading what the police had written for him. On June 2, 1977, all charges against him were dropped.
In the fall of 1977 the six detectives - John Ellis, James Carty, James Curley, William Jones, James Crown and Roseborough McMillan - were indicted by a Federal grand jury. Mr. McMillan was accused of striking Wilkinson. Mr. Crown and Mr. Jones, the indictment said, had jumped on his legs and "struck him with a blackjack and with their fists."
On March 22, 1978, the detectives were convicted of conspiring to beat and threaten seven witnesses and suspects. Two were acquitted of assaulting Mr. McGinnis, who, in a plea-bargaining arrangement, received a sentence of 22 years in prison. Mr. Hanley drew a life sentence.
The jury did not reach a verdict on the counts that charged the detectives with beating Mr. Hanley and Mr. Wilkinson. "I spent 15 months in jail for something I didn't do," Mr. Wilkinson said. "I just want to see justice for everybody."