A judge has vacated the death sentence for a Philadelphia man in one of two 1990 killings and vacated his conviction and granted him a new trial in the other.
Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Leon Tucker, in an order Thursday, granted a defense petition to remove Derrick Ragan from death row in the fatal shooting of Darren Brown, 22.
Ragan, 49, remains convicted of first-degree murder and related offenses in the June 26, 1990, fatal shooting of Brown at Tustin Playground in Overbrook and is to remain in prison for the rest of his life without parole after he is removed from death row.
The judge vacated the death sentence based on the outcome of an earlier homicide case in which Ragan had been convicted of first-degree murder for the June 15, 1990, fatal shooting of Anthony Thomas, 22, in West Philadelphia. He had been sentenced to life in prison in that killing.
Tucker, in a Jan. 10 order, granted a request by defense attorneys Michael Wiseman and Tracy Ulstad to vacate Ragan’s conviction in Thomas’ killing because at the time of Ragan’s 1991 trial, his then-defense attorney did not know that the key prosecution witness had been granted immunity. The witness, a friend of the victim, was 15 years old and was in Thomas’ car when Thomas was shot.
In a Dec. 12 court filing, Paul George, assistant supervisor of the District Attorney’s law division, agreed with Ragan’s lawyers that Ragan should receive a new trial because of the immunity claim. George noted that prosecutors’ failure to disclose the immunity grant had been unintentional.
Ragan’s murder conviction in Thomas’ slaying was the sole aggravating circumstance used by prosecutors during Ragan’s trial in Brown’s killing, when prosecutors asked a jury to sentence Ragan to death. The jury did so.
But because Tucker earlier this month vacated Ragan’s conviction in Thomas’ slaying and ordered a new trial, lawyers on both sides agreed that by law, without the sole aggravating circumstance, Ragan’s death sentence needs to be vacated in Brown’s murder. Tucker this week agreed.
George had previously sought to give Ragan a chance at parole in asking Tucker to allow Ragan to plead guilty to third-degree murder in both homicides and be resentenced to 35 to 70 years in state prison. He said Ragan has turned his life around.