There was no movie
made about Anthony Fletcher, but there should be one.
Allegations of missing and fabricated evidence, sketchy witnesses, prosecutorial misconduct and crappy lawyering
Although we don’t
know for certain how many innocent people sit on Pennsylvania’s death row, we do know that
six innocent men have been exonerated in the Keystone state over the past 30
years. Those who are condemned to death in Pennsylvania
are disproportionately from Philadelphia, and overwhelmingly
black and Latino, with the highest proportion of racial minorities of any
death row population in the U.S.
One of those
Philadelphians is Anthony Fletcher, prisoner #CA1706, who has been on death
row for two decades. Fletcher should be a free man today. And if there is
justice, he will be a free man.
discharged Army vet who had learned to box in Germany and became a lightweight
prizefighter, Anthony “Two Guns” Fletcher came from a boxing family. His uncles
were fighters, and his mother Lucille was the first African-American female
boxing judge in Philadelphia.
Anthony was the sparring partner for Sugar Ray Leonard in preparation for his win over Marvin
Hagler, and made a name for himself by beating such greats
as Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, Harry Arroyo, Johnny Bumphus, Jimmy Paul and Livingstone
Bramble. But a detached retina and a bout with Bell’s Palsy slowed down his
Now Fletcher is in
the fight of his life, a fight to prove his innocence, and a fight against an
out-of-control justice system. And for years in Fletcher’s hometown of Philly,
under the reign of the infamous district attorney, Lynne Abraham, that system
kept tallies on expendable black men, aiming to win rather than seeking true
Fletcher, then 37,
was sentenced to death in 1993 for the robbery and murder of Vaughn
Christopher. Christopher, 26, a crack addict, suffered two gunshot wounds. Fletcher does
not deny that he was at the scene, but maintains he was railroaded. The devil is in the details, and those details
point to a grave injustice.
Based on the account by Fletcher and people close to the case,
Christopher had robbed Fletcher at gunpoint for $50. Weeks later, Fletcher saw
Christopher from a distance while driving in his car, confronted him regarding
the stolen money and punched him. Vaughn pulled out a gun from under his shirt. Fletcher quickly
placed his hands on Vaughn’s forearm in an act of self-defense. The gun
discharged, two bullets struck Vaughn in the thigh and abdomen and he fell to
injuries were not life-threatening. Yet he bled for hours in the University of
Pennsylvania Hospital, and died because his mother, a Jehovah’s Witness,
refused a blood transfusion.
The D.A. said it was
a homicide, and sought the death penalty for Fletcher. Lynne Abraham, who was
known as “America’s Deadliest D.A.” for her overzealous use of the death
penalty, did not pass up the opportunity in what was, at best, a case of
self-defense, and as worst a simple assault if not an accident.
this was payback, given that Abraham wanted Fletcher to testify at a murder
trial, in which a member of the Junior Black Mafia was tried for firing into
Fletcher’s car and killing his cohort. Anthony - who ducked to save his life
and says he never saw the shooter - attended the trial but changed his mind
Fletcher is in the fight of his life, a fight to prove his innocence, and a fight against an out-of-control justice system.
painted Fletcher as a coldblooded drug dealer who murdered Christopher over a
drug debt. Their case rested on the eyewitness testimony of Natalie Renee
Grant, a self-professed addict who had a long criminal record. She testified
that the incident stemmed from a drug deal and that Fletcher murdered
Christopher execution-style and fled the scene. Anthony’s bungling defense
failed to challenge Grant’s unsubstantiated hearsay testimony. Meanwhile, Grant
– who was facing prostitution and theft charges - was given probation in
exchange for her testimony.
were barred from testifying.
No gunpowder test
was performed on Christopher’s clothes, which the police misplaced, and his
weapon was never admitted as evidence to prove it contained Anthony’s
fingerprints. Surely, had there been fingerprints, the prosecution would have
used such evidence against him.
There were other
problems with the case. For example, Fletcher and his supporters maintain the prosecution
used as evidence falsified hospital records and an autopsy report containing
photos of two African American men both purported to be Vaughn Christopher.
In addition, the
prosecutor claimed Anthony’s nickname was “Two Guns” because he carried two guns
on the street, a fallacious claim his defense lawyer failed to challenge. The
defense also declined to allow his client to take the stand.
prosecution claimed Fletcher shot Christopher once in the thigh and once in the
back, which does not square with the autopsy report. And Hydrow Park,
the Chief Medical Examiner who conducted the autopsy, did not testify because
the D.A. said he was unavailable and failed to notify him of the trial date.
Park’s underling, Ian Hood, who was unlicensed in Pennsylvania and
disciplined by the state board for pretending he was a licensed medical doctor,
took the stand instead. Hood, who testified there was no physical struggle
despite the bruise on Christopher’s chest, recanted his testimony in 2003.
Pleas Judge John Milton Younge vacated Anthony’s sentence in 2004 and ordered a new trial, citing as prejudicial the failure of
Dr. Park to testify, Dr. Hood’s erroneous testimony - which was contradicted by
the autopsy report that proves Fletcher’s innocence - and ineffective defense
counsel. But the retrial never occurred, as Judge Younge pursued a Superior
Court seat and the court failed to find a replacement judge. The D.A. appealed
the decision, and four years later, the state Supreme Court ruled against
missing and fabricated evidence, sketchy witnesses, prosecutorial misconduct
and crappy lawyering. Don’t forget racial overtones. These are
some of the essential ingredients of the death penalty. And this is what put
Anthony Fletcher and others on death row in Philly and elsewhere around the
BlackCommentator.com Executive Editor and
Columnist, David A. Love, JD, is the Executive
Director of Witness to Innocence, a national nonprofit organization that
empowers exonerated death row prisoners and their family members to become
effective leaders in the movement to abolish the death penalty. He is, is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. and a contributor to The
Huffington Post, the Grio, The
Progressive Media Project, McClatchy-Tribune News Service, In These Times and Philadelphia Independent Media Center. He also blogs at davidalove.com, NewsOne, Daily Kos, and Open Salon. Click here to contact Mr. Love.