The sister of a 2007 murder victim whose accused killer, Dontia Patterson, was set free last week said Monday that she still believes Patterson was guilty and that the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office should have done more to seek her family's input while reinvestigating the decade-old case.
In an interview outside her Mayfair home, Meka Jackson, 27, said her family got a letter from the prosecutor's office this winter urging them to reply and learn about updates in the case. But she said that it did not specify that Patterson's release and exoneration were under consideration, and that she was unaware of efforts by the office to follow up to reach her or her relatives. Prosecutors, in arguing for Patterson's release, acknowledged they had not spoken with members of Jackson's family despite efforts to do so.
Jackson said she learned of the decision to clear Patterson last week when a relative told her to check the news, which triggered an emotional "meltdown" over the weekend as she relived the memory of her brother's killing.
"If they wanted to hear our side of the story, they could've found us," said Jackson, 27, whose brother Antwine was fatally shot in Summerdale in 2007. She said that no one should "be put on the back burner when it comes to situations like this."
In theme at least, the situation has similarities to other criticisms leveled this year against the District Attorney's Office and its new top prosecutor, Larry Krasner, when some victims' relatives complained that prosecutors had taken actions in court without sufficiently informing them.
But Jackson's case appears to have differences.
Jackson said she did not reply to prosecutors' letter about Patterson's case because her mother has been undergoing dialysis treatment, taking a toll on the family.
Ben Waxman, a spokesman for Krasner's office, said prosecutors had tried to reach the Jacksons by phone, by email, by letter, and in person, sending county detectives to several addresses possibly associated with them.
Waxman said staffers tried four phone numbers and four email addresses tied to the Jacksons. Last month, before publicly announcing their intent to seek Patterson's release because they believed he likely was innocent, prosecutors asked a judge for more time to contact the family.
Jackson said she had not seen or heard of any efforts beyond the letter to reach her relatives, which made her feel "disrespected."
Waxman said Monday that "we fully can sympathize and understand the pain this family has been through." He said prosecutors still would speak with family members to explain the case and the decision to drop charges against Patterson.
"We are prepared to meet with them any time they'd like," Waxman said.
Jackson said the episode was emotionally draining. She described her brother as her best friend, and said they had a bond as strong as "stainless steel." She remembers coming home after school in 2007 to learn that he had been shot. Monday, while recalling seeing him in the hospital afterward, she cried.
Her brother's ashes sit in an urn on a table in the dining room near a photo of him that reads, "Antwine Jackson, we love you always." She wonders who if anyone spoke up for him during Patterson's appeals in court. Unlike her brother, she said, Patterson could speak for himself and had lawyers working on his behalf.
"I just feel disrespected," Jackson said. "Y'all didn't put [any] respect on my brother's name."
Patterson's case was the first homicide conviction that Krasner's office sought to overturn and dismiss because of questions about a defendant's guilt. Prosecutors had agreed to vacate Patterson's conviction in February over questions about the effectiveness of his trial attorney. In an extraordinary motion last week, Krasner's chief of homicide, Anthony Voci, went a step further, writing that the office believed in the likely innocence of Patterson, who was found guilty in 2009 of fatally shooting Jackson two years earlier. His first trial, in 2008, ended in a hung jury.
Voci called Patterson's conviction "illogical" and "an egregious example of police and prosecutorial misconduct," saying previous prosecutors had failed to turn over information that could have pointed to a more likely shooter who is now deceased. One of those former prosecutors, Richard Sax, has denied that he withheld exculpatory information before trial.
Jackson said that she still believed Patterson was guilty, and that she has "many questions" about why prosecutors felt they should not try him again.
"We've got to deal with a family member being away the rest of our lives," she said.