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Freedom finally for two men convicted of 1995 murder

Eugene Gilyard and Lance Felder spent 15 years in prison for the robbery, murder of North Philly store owner

EUGENE GILYARD and Lance Felder were teenagers when they were arrested and charged in the robbery and murder of a North Philadelphia store owner in the 1990s.

A jury found them guilty of first-degree murder in December 1998, resulting in both receiving life sentences in state prison without the possibility of parole.

Yesterday, the cloud of guilt that had been hanging over the men officially dissipated after the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office announced it would not retry them for the 1995 murder of Thomas Keal, 52.

In October, a judge ruled that they were entitled to a new trial based, in part, on newly discovered evidence.

"The passage of so many years and inconsistencies between witnesses from the initial investigation and witnesses that came to light more recently has compromised the evidence to the point that we cannot proceed," read, in part, a brief statement released by the D.A.'s office.

The statement noted, however, that the credibility of Ricky Welborn - the man who confessed in a 2011 statement to taking part in the slaying of Keal - has been called into question "as there is an abundance of evidence that Welborn . . . was offered $10,000 in exchange for that statement."

The statement does not say who offered him the money.

Welborn, 35, known as "Rolex," claimed in a statement he gave to Gilyard's attorneys, from the Temple University-based nonprofit Pennsylvania Innocence Project, to have killed Keal with the help of a man known as "Tizz" on the evening of Aug. 31, 1995.

Welborn made the statement in state prison, where he is serving a life sentence for an unrelated murder.

"We provided the prosecutors with a mountain of evidence demonstrating that Mr. Gilyard and Mr. Felder are in fact innocent, so it is a little disappointing that the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office claims only that it cannot proceed against Eugene Gilyard and Lance Felder," said Marissa Bluestine, legal director of the Innocence Project.

She added that the D.A.'s contention that Welborn received anything for his confession was discredited during hearings last year.

Gilyard and Felder, who are both 35, were granted a new trial in October by Common Pleas Judge Rose Marie DeFino-Nastasi.

Following a hearing, the judge said her ruling was based, in part, on the new "detailed" and fully corroborated confession from Welborn and the "extremely weak" evidence used to convict the pair at their 1998 trial. She released them on house arrest a month later.