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Philly judge grants house arrest to man behind bars 11 years, facing retrial for 1st-degree murder

A Philadelphia judge on Thursday granted house arrest to Dontia Patterson, who has been behind bars for nearly 11 years, and who is facing a new trial in a murder case.

Dontia Patterson (center) with his daughter Samarah, now 11, and her mother, Shanell Allen.
Dontia Patterson (center) with his daughter Samarah, now 11, and her mother, Shanell Allen.Read morePennsylvania Innocence Project

A Philadelphia judge on Thursday granted house arrest to a man facing a retrial in a murder case after more than a decade behind bars.

Common Pleas Court Judge Kathryn Streeter Lewis approved the defense request after the District Attorney's Office agreed that Dontia Patterson, 29, should be released on bail with electronic monitoring. But the office didn't go as far as to drop charges against Patterson in the 2007 shooting death of a friend in Northeast Philadelphia.

"We have reviewed this matter and believe that the defendant may be innocent, but we're not there yet in terms of completing our investigation, which is why we are not dropping the charges," Anthony Voci Jr., the office's homicide chief, told reporters during a courtroom break.

Releasing from custody a defendant awaiting trial in a murder case is extremely unusual, lawyers on both sides said. State law does not provide for bail in first-degree murder cases, but "ultimately it's up to the judge," Voci said.

Calling the case "extraordinary and exceptional," Voci said it meets four criteria for releasing Patterson pending retrial: Judge Steven Geroff on Feb. 16 vacated Patterson's conviction and sentence; Patterson actually may be innocent; he has no prior adult convictions for crimes of violence; and prosecutors agreed to bail.

Patterson's case was taken up pro bono by attorneys from the Center City firm of Cozen O'Connor and the Pennsylvania Innocence Project. Hayes Hunt, of the Cozen firm, standing alongside its president and managing partner, Vincent McGuinness, told reporters Thursday that evidence shows Patterson is innocent.

Voci told Lewis that prosecutors agreed to the bail request because "we have serious concerns about the integrity" of Patterson's conviction. But he asked for more time to investigate the case, saying prosecutors should decide within 90 days whether to drop the charges or proceed to a retrial.

After the judge ordered him released, Patterson smiled at relatives. He has been housed in state prison, most recently in Chester, Delaware County. It was not immediately clear when he would be released, but Hunt said it should be in the next few days.

"I'm just really excited and happy," Patterson's mother, Jacqueline, said afterward.

Patterson was charged with fatally shooting Antwine Jackson outside a store on the 800 block of Granite Street in Summerdale on Jan. 11, 2007. He was arrested that April.

His trial in 2008 ended in a hung jury. He was convicted at a second trial in 2009 of first-degree murder and possession of an instrument of crime, and sentenced to life in prison.

The store owner knew Patterson and would have testified that Patterson was not the shooter, but was not called to testify, Hunt said.

Two witnesses who identified Patterson as the shooter were at a barber shop two blocks away and didn't know Patterson, Hunt said.