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‘It's over, everything … You don't have to cry'

Robert (Reds) Wilkinson was sitting anxiously next to his wife, Christine, in his lawyer's office yesterday afternoon when he got the news that he had finally been absolved of five murder charges.

He smiled, kissed Christine and ran to the telephone.

"Hello, mom," he said. "Guess what?  We won. It's over . . . Everything . . . Yeah . . . You don't have to cry . . . I'll be home in a little while."

He hung up, Christine was hugging him.

"I don't believe it," she said. "God, what a relief. Is it really over?  Really?  I don't believe it."

Apparently, Wilkinson's 20-month struggle with Philadelphia's criminal-justice system was really over.

Common Pleas Court Judge Merna Marshall yesterday dismissed all charges against Wilkinson in connection with the 1975 Santiago firebombing, in which five people were killed. Two other men already have been convicted of the crime.

The judge said that the district attorney had acted improperly in attempting to prosecute Wilkinson, and that there was no evidence to justify a new trial.

"I'm happy," Wilkinson said to his lawyers, Robert Matthews and Jack Levine. "What else can I say?"

Wilkinson had spent 439 days in jail after his arrest on Oct. 5, 1975, hours after the firebombing. He was convicted a year ago on the basis of the testimony of Nelson Garcia a 14 year-old "eye witness," who later testified that he lied at Wilkinson's trial.

While in jail, Wilkinson never saw his 18-month-old son Robert Jr., and problems began to develop in his marriage. When he was released from jail on $5,000 bail last December, Wilkinson and his wife were temporarily separated.

But since then, the two have decided to live together again. In fact Christine said yesterday, she is expecting a second child in January.

Wilkinson, an automobile radiator mechanic, and his wife have been living with their son at Wilkinson's mother's home since he was released from jail. Now that the charge against him have been dismissed, Wilkinson and his wife said, they will look for an apartment.

"I don't have no grudges against no one," Wilkinson said. "I'm free and that's all that counts."