HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – A major break came Wednesday for Corey Walker, a 44-year-old man convicted in 1997 of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Tarajay Williams.
Senior Dauphin County Judge Lawrence Clark ruled in a 33-page opinion that the “cumulative effect” of suppressed evidence “commands” a new trial for Walker, who along with Lorenzo Johnson, was given a life sentence for Williams’ death.
“Fight[ing] for why you’re innocent is like trying to breathe underwater,” Johnson said exclusively to abc27 News. He was released in 2017 after agreeing to plead no contest to third-degree murder.
Johnson insists, though, he is innocent and only took the deal in order to get out of prison and be with his aging mother, kids and relatives.
“Some people give up and some people keep fighting, but you know, unfortunately, our system is full of people like us,” Johnson said.
The report details a series of extensive and tedious appeals from Walker which often ended in denials from various courts in the state system.
Clark wrote that key witness testimony was never turned over to Walker’s defense team until a 2014 appeal, nearly two decades after his conviction.
What’s more, Clark wrote, Walker’s defense was never made aware of a personal relationship between a lead detective in the case and another key witness, which is something Clark said “would have cast serious doubt on the integrity of the investigation.”
In addition to all of that, no forensic evidence exists, just witness testimony that in some cases differed at trial when compared to what police were originally told.
It was in the early morning hours of December 15, 1995, that Williams’ body was found in an alleyway in the 1400 block of Market Street in Harrisburg. He had been shot to death, and a rifle with a missing barrel was found over a nearby fence, according to Clark’s ruling.
“[Corey] shouldn’t have to go through what he went through. The system should’ve protected him 23 years ago,” said Johnson, who was first released from prison in 2012 but then returned five months later on a technicality, staying until his 2017 release.
“You really have to be committed for a marathon because it’s definitely not a sprint,” said attorney La Tasha Williams, who worked in a citizen advocate role on Johnson’s behalf before his release. “Oftentimes, defendants are indigent, they’re poor, and they cannot afford legal counsel.”
Williams said after reading Clark’s ruling, prosecutors (from the attorney general’s office which tried the case against Walker and Johnson) failed in their basic ethical duties.
“They have a duty, whether they like it or not, to disclose that evidence to the defense, and to hide it, to conceal it, it puts a stain on our system of justice,” Williams said.
She said the Commonwealth has 30 days to appeal Clark’s ruling, which could lead to a new trial or a plea deal, like in Johnson’s case – it’s still too early to tell.
Walker is expected to be transferred to Dauphin County from SCI Coal Township in Northumberland County in the coming weeks.