According to Marvin Hill, Philadelphia Police Homicide Detective Philip Nordo had been questioning him for hours about a 2010 murder when the detective began making sexual advances — promising that, if Hill acquiesced, “all this” would go away.
Hill recoiled, according to court filings. In response, Nordo pledged “to make sure Hill’s life was a living hell and make sure he never saw daylight again.”
Nordo’s alleged promise was fulfilled — at least, for now. Hill was convicted of killing 19-year-old Stacey Sharpe, and remains in prison.
On Wednesday, Nordo was convicted of rape, official oppression, stalking, and theft by deception, after a two-week trial in which he was accused of wide-ranging official misconduct, including sexually assaulting witnesses and defrauding a city reward fund in connection with a murder case.
Hill, like dozens of other young men who say they were framed by Nordo, was convicted and remains in prison serving a life sentence with no possibility of parole. Now, an open question is to what extent Nordo’s conviction may lend support to their claims.
“We are looking at a situation where literally dozens of homicide investigations were conducted by Detective Nordo in a way we have no choice but to question now,” District Attorney Larry Krasner said at a news conference after the verdict. “Because we know that what he was actually doing didn’t have much to do with finding out who was guilty and who was innocent — and it had a whole lot to do with forcing people to submit to his violent sexual demands. And that means we have to reconsider dozens of homicide convictions. It means there will be, there have been, exonerations.”
After charging Nordo in 2019, the DA’s Office publicly committed to reviewing each of about 80 cases Nordo had investigated, spanning from when he first joined the Homicide Unit in 2009 to his termination in 2017. In some of the cases, prosecutors concluded that Nordo’s role was minor or that there was no sign of misconduct. Twenty cases are still under review, as lawyers seek to determine not only whether there was evidence of misconduct by Nordo, but also whether it was so severe as to undermine the integrity of the conviction.
So far, judges have vacated at least 11 murder convictions built on Nordo’s investigations, including five exonerations and four cases that will be retried. (In many of those cases, alleged victims of Nordo have sued the city for damages. Those lawsuits were placed on hold in recognition of Nordo’s right to avoid incriminating himself.)
Most recently, in April, Rafiq Dixon was exonerated of the murder of Joseph Pinkney. A judge rejected Dixon’s claims that Nordo’s misconduct had tainted the case, which relied on two shaky eyewitnesses, but agreed Dixon’s lawyer was ineffective for failing to call alibi witnesses.
Now, Dixon said he’s still re-acclimating to life outside prison. For him, Nordo’s conviction brought some satisfaction. “I would say that’s justice, because what he was doing wasn’t justice. ... You can’t taint evidence and build a case on lies and what you want it to be. Do it fair and square. Don’t lie and take someone’s life because you want a sexual favor from someone. Because that’s bull crap. That’s not justice.”
In other overturned cases, defendants now face the prospect of being retried on the same charges. One man, Ronald Thomas, is jailed awaiting what would be his third trial for the 2010 murder of Anwar Ashmore. He was convicted in 2018 after his own rap lyrics were used as evidence, but a judge found the DA’s Office improperly withheld information about Nordo’s prior misconduct.
Another man, Dwane Handy, won a new trial after he alleged that Nordo had solicited him for sex, given him his cell number, and coerced a statement — and a slip of paper with Nordo’s number was found at Handy’s home, in his jacket pocket. He may be tried again for that case, the fatal 2011 shooting of Quince Morant.
Going forward, judges still have to assess the credibility and relevance of numerous other allegations of misconduct. One man, Shaheed Kelly, alleged that Nordo forced him to have oral sex in an interrogation room, then framed him for murder.
» READ MORE: ‘Sex for Lies’
Another, Joshua Raheem, says a key witness, who worked with Nordo to provide testimony in at least one other murder case, has admitted colluding with Nordo to frame Raheem in order to get $20,000 in reward money.
Yet another, Reafeal Fields, alleged that Nordo coerced witnesses who accused him of a murder that took place while he was shoveling snow in front of several witnesses.
Five more men’s murder convictions remain intact even though prosecutors now agree that their cases, investigated by Nordo, were tainted, and that new trials are warranted.
In a 2021 filing in Hill’s murder case, a prosecutor wrote that Hill is “likely” innocent, and that “critical information scientifically proving Hill was not the shooter in the homicide of Stacey Sharpe was not provided to this Court at the time of trial.”
The DA based that conclusion on witness interviews, a review of the police file, and analysis of surveillance video that showed Hill standing with a few other people in front of a store down the street when the shooting occurred. That video shows Hill leaving the frame in the opposite direction of the shooting and returning a minute or two later. But Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Barbara McDermott rejected that petition, concluding that Hill could have gone through a back alley to commit the shooting and then looped back around into range of the camera. She found that his allegations against Nordo, even if true, had no bearing on the outcome of the case.
Hill, who has an 11-year-old daughter at home, is appealing McDermott’s decision.
“I still got faith that the court system will come around,” he said.
The DA’s Office has also supported a new trial for Curtis Kingwood and Faheem Davis, who were convicted of the robbery and murder of Christopher Lee in 2011. Kingwood signed a confession that also implicated Davis — but did so only after 43 hours in custody being questioned by Nordo. The DA’s investigation “has uncovered both Nordo misconduct as well as misconduct by the Commonwealth that fundamentally undermined the truth-seeking function of the trial,” prosecutors wrote in a 2021 filing. In addition, one of the witnesses against the two men was the same man who said he falsely testified against Raheem in return for reward money.
The filing alleges that another detective on the case, Ohmarr Jenkins, testified falsely when he said Kingwood initially implicated a man who detectives concluded didn’t exist. But the man did exist, and prosecutors found a time-stamped printout of his mugshot in the police file.
Teri Himebaugh, Davis’ lawyer, said she believes the fallout from Nordo’s conviction will extend beyond the cases the DA’s Office is reviewing, especially regarding the use, and abuse, of reward money.
“It’s going to bring light to not just other cases that have been investigated by Detective Nordo, but also to practices that appear to be much more prevalent throughout the entire unit,” she said. “Other people had to have known. Supervisors had to have known. If this is a culture where this is permitted, there are going to be other cases.”
» READ MORE: The Homicide Files, a special report