A Philadelphia man cleared of wrongdoing in six murders after spending 25 years on death row was shot and killed Friday while attending a funeral procession for another previously imprisoned man, according to reports.
Christopher Williams, 62, came home from prison in February 2021 after serving nearly three decades. He was exonerated on four murders and freed. He was previously acquitted in two other murders on cases all derived from the same jailhouse informant, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
A father of six children, Williams was shot once in the head after stepping out of his car at Mount Peace Cemetery, near the 3000 block of Lehigh Avenue in north Philadelphia three minutes before 2:30 p.m. Friday. He had been driving in the funeral procession for Tyree Little, another previously incarcerated man, the newspaper reported.
Though the state of Pennsylvania does not offer compensation for the wrongfully convicted, the city of Philadelphia has paid settlements of around $10 million each to some exonerated who served 25 years or more in prison. Williams’ killing has sent fear through other exonerees who continue their legal battles for hefty payouts as newly free men.
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Williams own lawsuit against Philadelphia, filed a year ago, remained pending at the time of his death.
Williams’ co-defendant in a triple murder, Theophalis "Bilal" Wilson, who himself was exonerated after serving 28 years in prison, remarked to The Inquirer, "Although we’re actually innocent, not everyone believes it."
Family friends from the city's Germantown section, Williams and Wilson were accused of being in a gang and working to kill three drug dealers from New York. In court filings, the District Attorney’s Officer later admitted the case against the two men was "built on a house of cards." Prosecutors acknowledged false jailhouse informant testimony, extensive undisclosed evidence, and forensic evidence that directly contradicted the informant’s story.
"The basic structure underpinning the conviction was built on the unscrupulous behavior of several bad actors," the court filings said.
"I spent 28 years in jail for knowing him," Wilson said after Williams' death. "I have to be on guard."
Originally sentenced to death for the murders of the three drug dealers, Williams was also previously convicted of murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in the killing of Michael Haynesworth.
Williams was exonerated in December 2019 while Wilson was exonerated in January 2020 for the triple homicide.
The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) later revisited the Haynesworth murder case and discovered testimony against Williams was inconsistent with the available physical evidence, according to WCAU. Williams was exonerated a second time and released after serving 29 years behind bars.
Williams’ family said he aspired to start his own construction company and a re-entry program.
So far, no arrests have been made in connection to his killing.