According to the Georgia Innocence Project 4-6% of people incarcerated in U.S. Prisons are innocent but an even smaller percent of those wrongfully convicted are able to prove it.
Philip Vance was convicted for the December 2002 murder of a store clerk at Sabreen's Supermarket in South Saint Paul. He has always maintained his innocence and pointed to the publicly documented corruption of the officers who handled his case as a big reason he says they pinned this on him.
Philip was 22-years-old at the time Khaled Al-Bakri was killed. According to interviews with people close to Philip he was getting his hair braided at the time and should have never been a suspect. In the BCA file we received for Philip's case there's no documentation that Philip's hair braider was called to testify during trial.
With the recent release of Marvin Haynes and Myon Burrell, both who were arrested in the early 2000's, restorative justice abolitionists Jason Sole and David Starks are calling out a pattern of unethical practices used by officers and investigators in the Twin Cities. The arrests of Philip, Marvin and Myon all happened in the same timeframe that mass corruption was found within the Minnesota Gang Strike Task Force. A cross-agency task force that included officers and sheriffs from various agencies across the metro.
If the investigators leading this case were found guilty of corruption can we trust that their investigation had integrity? But even beyond the surface, there are more holes in Philip's case. Here's four of them.
1. Officers guilty of corruption
Several officers, at least 5, who worked Philip’s case were on the Minnesota Gang Strike Task Force. That task force was disbanded in 2009 for corruption and paid out $3 million in damages.
2. No physical evidence
There's no physical evidence that connects Philip Vance to the crime. After reviewing hundreds of pages from the BCA investigation file we only found documentation that proves Philip’s DNA did not a match evidence found at the crime scene. This included his fingerprints and blood. There was no surveillance footage and no eyewitness to connect him to the crime. Through the investigation a gun was retrieved from Philip from an undercover effort by police. After being tested it was determined that this gun was not a match for the crime.
3. Untrustworthy Informants
Two informants were used on this case. One was the sister of officer McManus who was on the case. Most people would say that is a conflict of interest and should not have been allowed. Additionally, the brother and sister (officer and informant) were also both related to the first judge assigned to the case. The first informant was also characterized as “a drunk” by the second informant in a recent interview. The second informant was very young and chemically dependent at the time police brought her in on this case. She was recovering from a very traumatic experience that she said the cops saved her from so she said she was willing to help them in anyway. She recanted her original statement that implicated Philip in the Sabreen's Supermarket Killing by signing an affidavit. But then later she said that she was pressured into doing so.
4. Testimonial evidence
Philip was convicted on testimonial evidence. In addition to the informants testimonies Police primarily used testimony from inmates and one family that knew Philip. Many of the people who testified against Philip have since recanted and the integrity of others remains in question. One admitted she and her family, some who testified at the grand jury trial, lied in attempt to get a $10,000 reward that was promised to them by the officer working the case. The woman in the family who admitted this also said she was facing charges of her own at the time and the officers made her case go away in exchange for her testimony against Philip. In addition to this, other testimony was from at least 3 inmates who alleged that Philip told them he did it. This people never saw anything themselves. And although they claimed that Philip confessed to them it was believed they were offered early release to testify against Philip.
According to a statement provided by Dakota County his case is currently being reviewed by the Conviction Review Unit.
Philip Vance is currently in solitary confinement after speaking out about unlivable conditions at the Stillwater Prison this past summer. According to advocates he says he was retaliated against for his role in protesting the conditions. As a result he was sentenced to 180 days in solitary confinement despite the Minnesota Department of Corrections Paul Schnell going on the record saying he would limit the use of solitary confinement.
Jason and David Starks have also called on the Dakota County prosecutor Kathy Keena to step up. Protests were held at Dakota County in November for Philip but requests to speak with Keena directly were unanswered.
"There is no physical evidence whatsoever," says David Starks.
Supporters of Philip Vance are calling others to write Paul Schnell, Kathy Keena and Governor Walz to remove him from solitary confinement and to expedite the CRU process or find another means to overturn his case.