After 21 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, and another year of fighting for compensation, Terrance Lewis won a $6.25 million settlement from the City of Philadelphia on Tuesday — one that came with a long-awaited apology.
“I’m liberated now,” Lewis, 41, said Tuesday evening. “First, I became physically liberated, with the exoneration. Now, economically, financially speaking, I’m free. I’m not chained. Next is my education. I’m going to liberate myself mentally.”
In a lawsuit filed last year, Lewis alleged rampant police misconduct, coercion of witnesses, and concealment of evidence in his case.
Both Lewis and Mayor Jim Kenney said the settlement is a step toward addressing historic inequities in Philadelphia’s criminal justice system.
“I know that money alone cannot compensate Mr. Lewis and his family for the 21 years he spent incarcerated,” Kenney said in a statement. “And I know that much more must be done to reform our criminal justice system and to help the families and communities that have been torn apart by instances in which the system didn’t work. This work is difficult and takes significant effort and time, but I remain fully committed to it so we can create a more equitable and just city for all Philadelphians.”
Lewis was convicted of the murder of Hulon Bernard Howard inside his West Philadelphia home on Aug. 6, 1996. Lewis’ lawsuit maintained that the murder investigation was deeply flawed, with detectives suppressing evidence that pointed to his innocence.
Lewis, who received support from friends and strangers through GoFundMe after his release, had struggled financially, and recently took a job in a homeless shelter to pay his bills. But his goal, he said, is to help other innocent people access justice. He recently launched a nonprofit, the Terrance Lewis Liberation Foundation, that will investigate claims of wrongful convictions.
Lewis is one of 14 people to be exonerated since District Attorney Larry Krasner took office and created an expanded Conviction Integrity Unit in 2018. His is the second-largest payment to an exoneree, after a nearly $10 million settlement paid to Anthony Wright in 2018.
With the funding, Lewis said, he will have time to take stock and make plans. The first item on his agenda, he said, was re-enrolling his son, Zahaire, who had dropped out of college a few years ago because he ran out of money. Next, Lewis plans to pursue his own bachelor’s degree, and perhaps a law degree.
“Coming home, post-wrongful incarceration, my world was in shambles,” he said. “I came home to COVID and rioting and looting. The racial inequality we still suffer as a nation. I definitely appreciate the administration as it is today in Philadelphia taking a step forward, acknowledging right from wrong, as pertains to past injustices.”