As reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer, a new civil rights complaint filed in federal court today alleges that a group of Philadelphia Police Department detectives caused the wrongful prosecution and conviction of John Miller for a murder that he did not commit. As a result, Mr. Miller spent more than 22 years in prison. Remarkably, the only evidence leading to Mr. Miller’s conviction was the statement of a man who later admitted to being the real perpetrator.
Mr. Miller was accused of committing the October 1996 robbery and murder of 49-year-old Anthony Mullen, an attendant at a parking lot near 30th Street Station. After months without any leads in the case, PPD detectives arrested a man named David Williams who had committed multiple violent robberies throughout the city. Williams, in order to help reduce the time he would spend in jail, decided to tell detectives about a number of murders where he claimed to have information, including the Mullen murder. Williams told detectives that John Miller, who he knew from his neighborhood, had admitted to killing Mullen.
Williams’ statement was false. And, as alleged in today’s lawsuit, police had several reasons to know it. Indeed, Williams gave police information that was clearly and provably untrue. For example, Williams told police that another man he knew was at the scene of the Mullen murder and could prove Mr. Miller’s involvement. But when police spoke to that other man they learned that he had been in prison at the time of the murder.
This information gave detectives every reason to discount the truthfulness of Williams’ account. The detectives, however, hid that information from prosecutors and from Mr. Miller and his lawyer, and they insisted that Williams’ story about Mr. Miller’s so-called confession was true. Even when Williams testified in Mr. Miller’s court proceedings that his statement was false, the detectives maintained their position that there was no reason to disbelieve the original statement.
Four years after Mr. Miller was convicted, David Williams wrote to Mr. Miller’s mother and made a stunning admission: that he, David Williams, was the person who shot and killed Mullen. Still, detectives insisted that Mr. Miller was guilty. They did so while knowing that they had never disclosed information that they had from the beginning showing that Williams’ statement was false.
For years, Mr. Miller and his lawyers from the Pennsylvania Innocence Project and Pepper Hamilton LLP fought in state and federal court to obtain his freedom. Finally, in July 2019, a federal judge vacated Mr. Miller’s conviction. On July 31, 2019, Mr. Miller, who was 21 at the time of his arrest, walked out of prison at the age of 44, a feeling he described as “surreal.”
The complaint in Mr. Miller’s case alleges that the conduct leading to his arrest and conviction was part of a longstanding practice in the Philadelphia Police Department where investigators fabricated evidence and failed to disclose favorable evidence to the accused. Recent major settlements in cases involving Anthony Wright and Shaurn Thomas have shown the widespread nature of these practices and the need for accountability.