Then-20-year-old Dwayne Bennett was convicted of the first-degree murder of Robert Janke, 22, while his cousin, Carlton Bennett, 20, and Giovanni Reid, 16, were convicted of second-degree murder and conspiracy. All remain in prison.
However, legal advocate LaTasha Williams says the case, which involved a white victim and black defendants, has been riddled with mistakes and cover-ups, which she said have masked the innocence of both Reid and Carlton Bennett.
Around 5:30 a.m. Aug. 10, Janke was standing by a payphone near the corner of 17th and South after arriving home and finding he was locked out of his apartment.
Reid, the Bennetts, another cousin named DeJuan Bennett and friends Tyrone Mackey and Richard King were walking back from IHOP and heading southbound on 17th Street.
According to Williams, who has worked on Reid’s appeal for a number of years, Reid said Dwayne Bennett had repeatedly mentioned he wanted to rob someone that morning.
Reid said Mackey, King and DeJuan were walking ahead down 17th Street while he, Carlton and Dwayne were bringing up the rear. According to Reid, Dwayne broke away from the trio when he noticed Janke standing alone and, when Reid and Carlton turned to see where Dwayne was, they noticed him arguing with Janke and, a moment later, shooting him in the head.
Prosecutors, however, contended that Reid and Carlton took an active part in the robbery, holding Janke while Dwayne took money from him and shot him.
The six ran from the scene.
Janke was robbed of $5, but it was dropped at the scene.
A few days after the murder, police brought in Lorraine Hill, who said she saw the murder while walking to work.
According to trial transcripts, Hill did not report what she saw to police immediately afterward. Two medical students who had rushed to Janke’s aid until emergency personnel arrived reported to detectives that a woman dressed in a white nurse’s outfit had told them she’d seen the murder.
The detectives found Hill walking the same route a few days later and asked her for her statement.
Hill, who placed a call to 911 on a payphone to report the shooting, told investigators she saw two young black men sitting on either side of Janke, while one stood before him. She said the pair pulled Janke to a standing position and walked him a short distance from the payphone, while one man with a gun, presumably Dwayne, walked close behind Janke before he put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger.
In her statement, Hill said the two young men on either side of Janke were dark-skinned black males. However, when asked in court whether Reid was dark-skinned, she replied, "no, and neither is the other one."
Hill did not describe having seen the other three young men.
Williams noted that, in their statements, King, Mackey and DeJuan mentioned having seen a “bag lady” in the vicinity, a figure Dwayne, Reid or Carlton did not mention.
“I don’t dispute that she was in the area,” Williams said. “I believe she may have told the police she saw three boys and then she had some assistance in creating the story.”
Allegations of threats
Since his conviction, Reid has filed several appeals based on information that came to light after the trial.
Mackey, King and DeJuan all became prosecution witnesses, with Mackey and King serving as the only witnesses to identify Reid and Carlton in court as taking part in the crime.
Several years after the trial, Reid’s attorneys learned that Mackey and King were given $100 a week in cash each, along with hotel accommodations, as part of a witness-protection program, which the prosecution did not disclose — an argument that was part of an appeal eventually denied.
Reid filed another motion after his attorney happened upon a passage in journalist Buzz Bissinger’s book “A Prayer for the City.”
Bissinger, who was shadowing the prosecutor in the Janke case, wrote that as the assistant district attorney was prepping Mackey for his testimony at a lunch break, “[Mackey] completely reversed his original statement to the police and now said the defendants had been some 15 feet away from the victim.”
Bissinger wrote that the ADA “got into” Mackey’s face and warned him to tell the truth under oath.
In several post-trial appellate proceedings, Mackey, who died last month of a heart attack, testified that Reid was 15 feet away from the victim at the time of the shooting.
Dwayne Bennett, in a 2008 affidavit, affirmed that the prosecutor instructed him that he had to plead guilty and name Carlton and Reid as co-conspirators to avoid the death penalty.
“Although I knew this was not true, I agreed to do so because I was afraid and did not want to be placed on death row,” he wrote. “My only efforts at that point was to save myself from a death sentence so I lied during my guilty plea colloquy.”
Dwayne continued that Carlton and Reid “were not involved, they were heading down the street when the shot was fired.”
A new witness
Dwayne Bennett came forward with this disclosure after a new witness surfaced — the former partner of Janke.
In 2006, Williams, who runs a website with information on the case, got an e-mail from Wayne Richman, a man living in Tennessee who said he was living with Janke at the time of his murder.
Williams traveled to Tennessee to take a deposition from Richman, who told her he had been sleeping Aug. 10 when he heard the doorbell ring. Assuming it was Janke, he said he looked out the window and saw six young men, in two groups of three walking down the street.
Williams said Richman told her he went downstairs to check for Janke and noticed three men at 17th near Bainbridge, two about 45 feet behind them and one further back with Janke. He said he heard one of the two men, whom he said were about 20 feet in front of the victim, say “don’t” shortly before the shot rang out.
Richman, who said he was a victim of street violence in the past and had been drinking that night, ran back inside and did not tell investigators what he saw.
Richman moved from Philadelphia and said he heard one individual was arrested for the murder and did not come forward with what he says he saw until 2006, when he learned that three people had actually been convicted.
Williams said that Richman told her Janke was closeted at the time of his death, and he was instructed by one of Janke’s family members who was aware of their relationship not to disclose it, including to the victim’s parents.
Richman was scheduled to testify in an evidentiary hearing in early 2007 but, the day before his flight to Philadelphia, he canceled.
According to court filings, Richman said two Philadelphia detectives visited his place of business telling him he would be charged with perjury if he testified in Reid’s favor and that they would be “waiting for him with handcuffs when [he] arrived in Philadelphia.” Richman related that veiled threats were also made to his son.
Richman contacted Tennessee police while the detectives were at his shop, and Williams said the Tennessee police asked the Philadelphia investigators to leave.
Richman failed to attend subsequent hearings but was eventually ordered to appear at a November 2010 proceeding, during which he testified that he witnessed only one person near Janke at the time of the shooting. He said he did not see a woman in a white nurse’s uniform.
Another hearing was scheduled for July, but the presiding judge, Renee Cardwell Hughes, announced this spring that she is retiring, and Williams said she’s waiting for a new judge to be assigned to the case.
Williams said that when the next evidentiary hearing is scheduled, the defense team plans to call Reid’s former attorneys, a crime-scene expert, a psychiatrist, Reid and herself.
She said her client is hoping for full exoneration, whether through a ruling overturning the verdict or the granting of a new trial.
Williams said she is confident that only one person, Dwayne Bennett, was involved in the robbery and murder, but asserted the facts were skewed because of the climate at the time.
“There were a lot of things happening in the city at this time. Lynne Abraham had just come into office as the District Attorney and had only been in office a few months. There had been numerous instances in which Drexel and Penn students were robbed and shot all around the same time. And there was a lot of public pressure that these cases be solved and be solved quickly. So when the issue arose that there was more than one person in the vicinity, I think the thinking was that they wanted to get three people, as opposed to just one, for this.”
The District Attorney’s office could not comment on the case because it is in appeal.
To read more about the case, visit www.giovannireid.com.