Dear Democracy Now! Visitor: We are an independent, ad-free daily news program that serves millions of viewers and listeners each month. Our show is special because we make it our priority to go where the silence is. We put a spotlight on corporate and government abuses of power and lift up the stories of ordinary people working to make change in extraordinary times. We do all of this with just a fraction of the budget and staff of a commercial news show. We do it without ads, corporate sponsorship or government funding. How is this possible? Only with your support. If every visitor to this site in December gave just $10 we could cover our basic operating costs for 2015. Pretty exciting, right? Please do your part today. It takes just a couple of minutes to make sure that Democracy Now! is there for you and everybody else in 2015.

Your Donation: $
Tuesday, December 20, 2005 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES
2005-12-20

The Story of Harold Wilson: Convicted of Triple Murder, Sentenced to Die, Exonerated After 17 Years in Prison

DONATE →
This is viewer supported news

In a Democracy Now! broadcast exclusive, we spend the hour with Harold C. Wilson. Convicted of three murders in 1989, Wilson spent more than 17 years in prison, most of that time on death row. In 1999, Wilson’s death sentence was overturned due to ineffective counsel. However, his murder convictions were not–and he remained on death row. Finally, on October 31st, 2005, Wilson’s final trial began. DNA evidence was presented for the first time. On November 15th, he was acquitted of all charges and set free.

In an extended conversation, Wilson talks about his imprisonment, his trial, his soldier son, who is serving in Iraq, and his daughter, who is a prison guard in Arizona. [includes rush transcript]

Today, the memorial service for executed death row prisoner Stanley Tookie Williams will be held in Los Angeles. Last week, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger denied William’s bid for clemency. He was executed by lethal injection. Williams spent 24 years on death row after being convicted of four murders. Though he was co-founder of the Crips, one of the country’s most notorious street gangs, once in prison he became a vocal advocate against gang violence, a children’s author and a Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Williams and his supporters maintained his innocence up until his death.

Today, a Democracy Now! broadcast exclusive. We spend the hour with Harold C. Wilson. Convicted of three murders, he spent more than 17 years in prison, most of the time on death row. Last month, he was exonerated after DNA evidence proved his innocence. He joined us yesterday in our firehouse studio for an extended conversation.

In 1989, a Pennsylvania jury sentenced him to death. Three times: once for each murder. After a decade on death row, in 1999, Wilson’s death sentence was overturned due to ineffective counsel.

That lawyer Willis Berry has since become a judge. Despite having his death sentence overturned, Wilson’s murder convictions were not–and he remained on death row.

Wilson was originally prosecuted by former Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Jack McMahon. In 1997, the courts began examining Philadelphia’s jury selection process after McMahon’s role in a training tape was revealed. That year, District Attorney Lynne Abraham, who was in a tight re-election campaign with McMahon, released a training video showing McMahon instructing colleagues to keep poor blacks off juries saying they were less likely to convict.

In 2003 a trial court granted Wilson a new trial after it found that McMahon had used racial bias to eliminate black jurors. Harold Wilson’s second trial was a mistrial. Then, on October 31st 2005, Wilson’s final trial began. DNA evidence was presented for the first time. On November 15th, Wilson was acquitted of all charges and set free.

Harold Wilson can be contacted at: Harold C. Wilson
PO Box 32084 Philadelphia PA 19146

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today we bring you a Democracy Now! broadcast exclusive. We spend the hour with Harold C. Wilson. He was convicted of three murders. He spent more than 17 years in prison, most of the time on death row. Last month he was exonerated based on D.N.A. evidence. He joined us yesterday in our Firehouse studio for an extended conversation. In 1989 a Pennsylvania jury sentenced him to death, three times, once for even murder. This is Harold’s story.

HAROLD WILSON: Standing in front of the judge being sentenced to death three times, I felt a shock from my toes to the top of my head. It took my breath away, and I went in shock. I didn’t realize the sentence of death.

AMY GOODMAN: This was death three times for three murders.

HAROLD WILSON: Three times for three murders. And I didn’t realize I was in shock until after I went upstate to Graterford Penitentiary like maybe two weeks, three weeks after. But it was like something had invaded my body, my spirit, when he announced the sentence of death, execution. At that time, it was supposed to be electrocution, at that time, would go through my body until I’m dead. I forget the actual voltage. But I’m in shock, going in shock, and I can feel the shock through my body, and he’s telling me that I’m going to be — he’s giving out three verdicts, three punishments of death, and I’m standing up there in shock, thinking, like, 'How can he do that? How is it possible to die three times by electrocution?' Survival. You asked about survival on death row? You have to be physical, spiritual, and you have to keep your mind open to the real reality of life, thinking about your loved ones and the memories of the past, you know, the holidays, which you do not generally enjoy on Pennsylvania death row.

AMY GOODMAN: Harold Wilson was frequently held in solitary confinement for extended periods of time. After a decade on death row, in 1999, Wilson’s death sentence was overturned due to ineffective counsel. I asked him about the conditions of his detention and where he was when he learned his death sentence, though not convictions, was overturned.

HAROLD WILSON: I was never taken off of death row. I remained on death row even though the courts, Pennsylvania courts, Court of Common Pleas on a post-conviction relief petition found counsel ineffective for failing to investigate. I still remained on death row, because this is the practice of Pennsylvania.

AMY GOODMAN: Even though they overturned your sentence?

HAROLD WILSON: Even though they overturned my sentence of death, I remained on death row at SCI Green amongst all the rest of the condemned inmates and prisoners.

AMY GOODMAN: Who told you that they had overturned the death penalty? And where were you in the prison?

HAROLD WILSON: I received notice in the mail from my litigating attorneys, Rob Dunham, Mary Hanson.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you remember the moment?

HAROLD WILSON: The moment —

AMY GOODMAN: That you learned?

HAROLD WILSON: Yeah, I do.

AMY GOODMAN: Where were you?

HAROLD WILSON: I believe I was in a restricted housing unit at the time.

AMY GOODMAN: That means you were in solitary confinement, in the hole?

HAROLD WILSON: I’m in solitary confinement in a restricted housing unit, serving 30 days D.C. time for disobeying a direct order, covering my vent, protecting myself from the freezing cold temperatures, which was a practice not only in S.C.I. Green, but what be called at Abu Brigs [sic].

AMY GOODMAN: Abu Ghraib?

HAROLD WILSON: Abu Ghraib.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?

HAROLD WILSON: I mean the freezing cold temperatures, a cold that was used as a punishment to silence most of the condemned, if not silence most of the condemned, to put you in a sickly state where you had to totally depend on its medical department.

AMY GOODMAN: So, in your cell, they made it extremely cold?

HAROLD WILSON: Extremely cold.

AMY GOODMAN: And you were trying to cover the vent?

HAROLD WILSON: Well, I wasn’t trying. I did it. And I served numerous D.C. time, numerous misconducts. I was serving numerous misconducts.

AMY GOODMAN: What is D.C. time?

HAROLD WILSON: D.C. time is what they call disciplinary time.

AMY GOODMAN: What did the cold do to you?

HAROLD WILSON: It affected my bones. You know, at some points it was so cold in my cell, the cells that I was placed in, it was so cold that I could scrape the inside window with an ink pen, I could scrape ice off the inside of the window. And a lot of times I had to sleep in my clothes. I couldn’t wash up at the sink because the temperatures were unbearable.

AMY GOODMAN: When you say sleep in your clothes, you mean all your clothes at once?

HAROLD WILSON: All the clothes that was issued a condemned inmate or prisoner, death row inmate, all the clothes that was issued at that time, I had to sleep in them. I had to wear them. I had to eat with them on. I had to —

AMY GOODMAN: What were those clothes, how many?

HAROLD WILSON: At that time, you were issued two pair of pants, two shirts and a summer jacket. You were allowed to own a pair of thermals, one pair of thermals, and personal socks. I made my personal socks, the thick wool hunting socks. And you had to use those clothes to survive. There was some inmates that I remember, one, George Banks, he used to put paper bags — he was a worker. They made him an inmate worker. He used to put paper bags in his sheets in his bed so his body warmth, when he covered up at night, his body warmth would keep him warm throughout the night until he opened up his door again to let him out. And he made paper hats, you know. You have a cloth wool hat that they give you and a skully, I think it’s called, and he used to make a bag out of a hat, and then he’d put the wool hat over the bag. He used to take plastic and put on his feet. And then he’d put three or four pair of socks on. So I wasn’t the only one subjected to freezing temperatures in the cell.

AMY GOODMAN: And you would be thrown in the hole in solitary if you covered the vent?

HAROLD WILSON: Yeah, because most inmates wouldn’t do that. Like George Banks, he would never do a rule infraction, which is cover a vent, disobeying an order. Most inmates had pacifiers — TVs, radios and cable — and those were one of the major tools to pacify death row inmates. The loss of their TV or loss of their cable for 30 days was unthinkable for most. But in my case, I didn’t have those shortcomings. I didn’t deal with those pacifiers. What was important was why I’m here, what will it take to articulate myself to a level that my attorneys would do what was needed to be done, what was needed to be done was filed in a timely manner.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, they never had that to take away from you, so they just would throw you in the hole?

HAROLD WILSON: Never. I never gave them the opportunity to dehumanize me to that point where I would second-guess my safety or my life betterment for something worldly as a TV.

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned Abu Ghraib, Harold. When you saw the images at Abu Ghraib, did you see them when you were in prison?

HAROLD WILSON: No.

AMY GOODMAN: Of prisoners being tortured?

HAROLD WILSON: No.

AMY GOODMAN: But you heard about it?

HAROLD WILSON: I heard about it.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you hear about it?

HAROLD WILSON: I believe that I was in the county prison at that time, on what they call a bring down to address some issues or — at some point, yeah, I was in the county.

AMY GOODMAN: So this was after you were at SCI Green, when you went to the county prison?

HAROLD WILSON: Well, I was at the county prison numerous times just to litigate and the litigating of my PCRA to get rid of the death penalty and whatever, so I spent a lot of time off and on.

AMY GOODMAN: So, in that case, SCI Green actually had a direct connection to Abu Ghraib, because of a prison guard who ended up at Abu Ghraib, Charles Graner, who has been convicted of some of the torture in the unit there, in the prison within the prison. Were you familiar with Charles Graner?

HAROLD WILSON: I was, I could say, familiar with Officer Graner’s demeanor, his method of torture, his method of abuse, others, but he’d draw the line when it came to me, because I was what — one of my investigators called me a pain in the ass to my jailers, because I would use a grievance. I would use grievances, I would file grievances. I would go attend my 30-day review, when most death row inmates wouldn’t.

AMY GOODMAN: You used the law library?

HAROLD WILSON: I would stand up. We had to fight for the law library on death row.

AMY GOODMAN: The guards would have to take you there?

HAROLD WILSON: Yes, you had to be escorted. Any movement was — you were subject to escort by two officers, and you were cuffed in the back, and it was to the discretion of the officers whether to cuff you in the back or cuff you in the front or use shackles and leg irons. Those were left to the discretion of the officer. But yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And how did the officers treat you as you were taken to the law library to build and challenge your case?

HAROLD WILSON: Well, most of them — let’s put it like this: They always appointed my escorts to be the most racist.

AMY GOODMAN: Former death row prisoner, Harold Wilson. Coming up, remarkable videotape of the prosecutor who convicted Wilson.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: In 1999, Harold Wilson’s death sentence was overturned, because of ineffective counsel. The lawyer, Willis Berry, has since become a judge. Despite having his death sentence overturned, Wilson’s murder convictions were not, and he remained on death row. Harold Wilson was originally prosecuted by former Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Jack McMahon. In 1997 the courts began examining Philadelphia’s jury selection process, after McMahon’s role in a training tape was revealed. That year, District Attorney Lynne Abraham, who was in a tight re-election campaign with McMahon, released a training video showing McMahon instructing colleagues to keep poor blacks off juries, saying they were less likely to convict. Here’s an excerpt — or here are excerpts from that video. We are going to go to that video: Jack McMahon, the former Philadelphia prosecutor. And this videotape was key in granting Harold Wilson a new trial after it found that McMahon had used racial bias to eliminate black jurors. We’re gonna try right now to go to that videotape of Jack McMahon.

JACK McMAHON: [inaudible] to get a competent, fair and impartial jury. Well, that’s ridiculous. You are there to win, and in order to win — and the defense is there to win, too — and the only way you’re going to do your best is to get jurors that are as unfair and more likely to convict than anybody else in that room. Let’s face it again. There’s the blacks from the low-income areas are less likely to convict. It’s just — I don’t understand it. It’s an understandable proposition. There’s a resentment for law enforcement, there’s a resentment for authority, and as a result, you don’t want those people on your jury, and it may appear as if you’re being racist or whatnot but again you are just being realistic, you’re just trying to win the case.

If you are sitting down and you’re gonna take blacks, you want older blacks. You want older black men and women, particularly men. Older black women, on the other hand, when you have like a black defendant who is a young boy and they can identify as, you know, a motherly type thing, are a little bit more difficult. The men don’t have that same kind of maternal instinct towards them, and they are a little bit more demanding and a little more law and order.

You don’t want smart people, because smart people will analyze the hell out of your case. They have a higher standard. They hold you up to a higher standard. They hold the courts up to a higher standard, because they are intelligent people. They take those words "reasonable doubt," and they actually try to think about them. And you don’t want those people. Bad luck with teachers, bad luck with social workers, bad luck with — intelligent doctors are bad. I always feel doctors are bad, too.

AMY GOODMAN: Jack McMahon, former Philadelphia prosecutor. In 2003 a trial court granted Harold Wilson a new trial after it found that McMahon had used racial bias to eliminate black jurors. Harold Wilson’s second trial was a mistrial. Then on October 31, 2005, Wilson’s final trial began. DNA evidence was presented for the first time. On November 15, Harold Wilson was acquitted of all charges. I asked him to describe the moment.

HAROLD WILSON: What they did was they told the jurors that, after three deadlocks, that they had to come back with a verdict and it must be unanimous. All 12 jurors must agree. So they went back, and I was removed from the courtroom and put in a holding cell. And about ten minutes, 15 minutes at the most, they called me back, sat me down, and they said, "Ladies and gentlemen of the court, the jury has a verdict." And the jury came in, and they said, 'Jury floor person, would you please read your verdict; have you come to a verdict?' He said, "Yes." And I say, 'What is that verdict?' Something of that sort.

AMY GOODMAN: You are standing?

HAROLD WILSON: Yeah, I’m standing, my two defense attorneys are standing, the District Attorney is standing. And the jury floor person reads the verdict, and I believe the court crier says, 'On the charge of first degree murder and bail number, how do you find the defendant? Say you are not guilty or guilty.' They said, "Not guilty." They say, 'On the second count of first degree murder, say how do you — say how do you find the defendant, guilty or not guilty?' They said, "Not guilty." And I never heard anything else. My attorneys just asked the court could I be seated, because I broke down. And I was seated. The next time I remember I was being escorted out of the courtroom into a holding cell. And the verdict was not guilty, three counts of first degree murder, and not guilty of possession of an instrument of crime. So, my prayers were answered, my family’s prayers, my mother’s, my sister, my brother’s prayers were answered.

AMY GOODMAN: Was your mother and sister in the courtroom?

HAROLD WILSON: My mother, sister and brother — my mother and sister was in the courtroom. My brother was in the lobby.

AMY GOODMAN: And your mother and sister, did you see them as the verdict was read?

HAROLD WILSON: At some point — at many points to the new trial I was told and directed by the judge and the sheriffs not to be turning around in the presence of the jury. So, I had to abide by those rules of the court. But I was told, following after the verdict, that my mom had her hands in the air, like this, hallelujah, and my sister had her hands folded in a prostrated manner, know what I mean, praising God, and that I had three angels on my jury, and they claimed that they pointed them out. They could see it in their face when the verdict was being read that who held out, that it was some students on the jury that was studying, was going to a college for DNA, and I believe they did what was right.

AMY GOODMAN: Using DNA?

HAROLD WILSON: Uh-huh.

AMY GOODMAN: In cases. So, you are brought to a holding cell. When were you released?

HAROLD WILSON: Well, I was brought to a holding cell and taken back to the prison on State Road, the county prison on State Road was picked. And at some time at nine o’clock, I was escorted to the receiving room, the intake room, and processed for release. I called my family, tell them that they kicking me out. Can you believe it? After 18 years, they kicking me out of prison. I need somebody to come pick me up. And they said, 'Oh, no doubt, we be right there.' And I signed the processing papers for my release. I was given a copy of my release papers. I was given 65 cent and a token, and I was told that I couldn’t leave the facility with SCI Green State Correctional DOC on my clothes, so they gave me clothes to wear and a jacket, and I walked out the back door of the county prison at 9:30 at night onto State Road with 65 cent and a token and no other means of support or survival.

AMY GOODMAN: And the clothes on your back.

HAROLD WILSON: And the clothes that they gave me. And the support network of family, my immediate family.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you have any kind of suitcase or —

HAROLD WILSON: I had a black trash bag with the remaining items of my legal property and the things that I needed to hold onto.

AMY GOODMAN: And was your family there to greet you?

HAROLD WILSON: No, not really. My family — they were further down the highway looking for me to exit from the personnel and staff front door of the prison. And I had two — it was two cars out front, and there was a Puerto Rican release along with me that day, and he asked could they drop me somewhere, and I said, 'No, it's not necessary. My family coming to pick me up.’ They said, 'Well, Poppy, we're not going to leave you out here, ya know what I mean, until somebody come pick you up. You sure that they’re coming?’ I said, "I’m positive. I called them." He said, "Well, would you like to call them again?" I said, "Sure, no problem."

And it’s pitch dark, and they pass me a cell phone, open it up and it lit up like a Star Wars or Star Trek, you know, "Beam me up, Scottie." I’m like, "Wo!" It was like the whole State Road lit up. I said, "Excuse me, you are going to have to do this. I have been locked up 18 years and some, and I don’t know nothing about this technology here, this cell phone." I said, "You’re going to have to do this for me." He said, 'Oh, we'll do that." And I gave him the number. He called my brother, and he was right down the street making u-turns in front of the door of the prison. So, I grabbed my little bag, my little black trash bag, and my legal stuff, jumped in the car, and he dialed my daughter in Arizona, Latisha Wilson, and we talked all the way from State Road to the family’s home. When I got home, the doors was open, the lights was on and the cameras was flashing. Mom, still with her hands up in the air, praising God, thanking God for my deliverance.

AMY GOODMAN: You talked about your daughter. You also have a son. How old were they when you were —

HAROLD WILSON: My son and daughter — I had just started a family at that time. My son was two years old — was my first. I helped pull him out the womb of his mother. And my daughter was one years old. And at that time that I struggled for survival and trying to understand how to survive with a family, too, a young lady that, I mean, loved me enough to give birth, to put her life on the line to give birth to two beautiful children, and I was struggling at the time. But they were young, too young to be raised up without a parent, a father figure.

AMY GOODMAN: Your son went to Iraq?

HAROLD WILSON: Yes, my son is now a military Marine, serving in the armed forces, certified tank operator for the United States Marine Corps. He served in Iraq on the front line. At some point, he witnessed his best friend get blown up in a tank or rolled over or some type of land mine or something like that. And since then, he has been debriefed and assigned to lighter duties in Okinawa, Japan.

AMY GOODMAN: How did he deal with his friend’s death? He saw it happen?

HAROLD WILSON: He witnessed the death of his friend, and he witnessed the death of, I assume, many other soldiers, many other innocent lost lives.

AMY GOODMAN: When he signed up for the Marines, did he think he was going to go to Iraq?

HAROLD WILSON: No. We were always — as family, we were always under the impression that he would not be thrust into the battle or put on the front line in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Was he told that, that he wouldn’t be fighting?

HAROLD WILSON: We were told. What he was told, I cannot elaborate on. But we were told, as family members, it was related to me through my family that you don’t have to worry about it, his father — his stepfather is in the military, and he won’t be going to Iraq. But that didn’t happen. He went to Iraq, and he served. And he fought for his life, and he watched people die.

AMY GOODMAN: Was he able to call you in prison to tell you about what happened?

HAROLD WILSON: No, he was never allowed to call me personally in prison and talk to me about his active tours in the field.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you hear about the killing of his best friend?

HAROLD WILSON: I heard about what he was dealing with through family, because he would call his family. He would call my mother, he would call my sister, he would call my parents’ home. And he would write letters. I still spend time right now, nights and days, reviewing those letters. And that is how I came about to know and understand what type of suffering and what type of life that he had to be born in.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you feel being locked up in prison, as your son was in Iraq and his friends were being killed?

HAROLD WILSON: Knowing the Bush administration and knowing how unjust the war is, being inflicted on the minds and spirits of American citizens and the families and parents, my son’s service in the United States military was worse than three death penalties, because it was unbearable for me, it was — I found myself praying for his safety. I was out for days, weeks, months — it was — every time you would see something on TV or a magazine, I came across it, I always thought about him, and I prayed for his safety. I prayed for his deliverance. You know, it was just — it was worse than the United States or the City of Philadelphia’s threat of death or threat of three life sentences.

You know, nothing meant more to me than my son’s safety. You know, and at times it was unbearable. It was to the point where I went to religious chaplains and asked, you know, I was under the banner of Islam, and I went to them and I told them, 'Listen, Chaplain Matt, you got to pray for my son. He's in Iraq, and he don’t know why he is there. He was trained and he was brainwashed to believe that he was fighting for the safety and the protection of the United States people and citizens, and his life is being sacrificed to a bunch of Muslims that will kill him.’ And it was just painful. It was worse than the sentence of death for me every day, knowing that his death penalty was going to be greater than mine.

AMY GOODMAN: Exonerated death row prisoner, Harold Wilson. We’ll be back with him in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We return to our interview with exonerated death row prisoner, Harold Wilson. He spent over 17 years in prison. His daughter Latisha is a prison guard in Arizona.

HAROLD WILSON: From my experience being in prison and incarcerated on Pennsylvania death row, she treats the people that she come around, the inmates that she come around, with compassion and a heart of forgiveness and betterment for their release, being a minimum security prison. Most of the inmates housed there are her age or younger. So, she talks to me three times a day, sometimes half the night. And she has the spirit to be a role model within the belly of the beast. But I have informed her that she wouldn’t last with that heart that she came in there with, the help and the love and the assistance that she renders to the young inmates, that it’s hard to live that type of life and go under the policies and enforce the rules and not be a doer of oppression.

AMY GOODMAN: When Stanley Tookie Williams was executed, did she describe to you what it was like in the prison?

HAROLD WILSON: Yes, she told me once Brother Tookie was murdered at California and New York — excuse me — California and Arizona prisons were put on lockdown. And there was some violence in the street amongst gang members, the Blood and the Crips. And in Philadelphia, me and my family sat there in the living room area, and we did our best screening the news, and you saw nothing of the violence or no news briefs relating to the lockdown in prison in California or Arizona. So, it was basically we were shut off to that type of — to the activity that was going about.

AMY GOODMAN: What were your thoughts that night?

HAROLD WILSON: My thoughts dealing with Tookie’s —

AMY GOODMAN: Tookie’s death, his execution; you, having just come out of prison and having spent so much of your life on death row.

HAROLD WILSON: Well, dealing with my present situation, the system of things and how the criminal injustice system function, it was never a doubt in my mind that Tookie would be murdered, because this is the practice of the power that be. And when you choose to be a political leader in the present system, that be a governor, when you run for elections — majority of them have this war cry, this rally cry, that, 'Yes, I'm hard on crime, and I believe in the death penalty. And for those of you voters that are for the death penalty, I will support you.’ So, when you deal with, in the final phase that he was dealing with, and you are not talking about issues of innocence or issues of constitutional magnitude, violations of trial counsel, court proceedings, evidence withheld, Tookie’s issue were his betterment, his fulfillment, for future betterment of people in society, and the change that was reborn into his heart and his actions.

AMY GOODMAN: Harold C. Wilson, you were put out of prison after 18 years, most of that time on death row, with 65 cents and a token. Where does that leave you today?

HAROLD WILSON: That leaves me as an exonerated former death row prisoner. That leaves me to fend for myself, to survive at a level higher than a homeless person, because at this time I don’t know where my next meal coming from, other than support of family. I don’t have any financial income. I don’t have any work. It wasn’t like I was being released and placed in a halfway house. It’s not like being told that you have to report to a parole officer in 72 hours or you will be re-arrested. It’s like, you know, after 18 years of dealing with the injustice system, all the abuse — the physical, mental abuse — I’m placed back in society with nothing, just the shelter of family. You know, no means of livelihood, no means of support, no financial bank account, no credit card. No compensation whatsoever. You know, it’s like we did what we had to do. The jury has rendered its verdict. We have a system in the United States, in Pennsylvania, that the jury verdict is part of the practice of the criminal justice system, and now you do what you have to do to get your life back together.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you suing the state for holding you for 18 years?

HAROLD WILSON: Yes, I sued the District Attorney, the City of Philadelphia, Jack McMahon, former District Attorney who prosecuted my case, and Lynne Abraham.

AMY GOODMAN: District Attorney.

HAROLD WILSON: District Attorney. Lead District Attorney of City of Philadelphia. And did — I filed this 1983 civil rights violation before my new trial. Once I was given relief, I had two years to do that. Upon the granting of the new trial I had two years from that time to file civil actions, and I did that pro se, on my own. At one time I filed a motion for appointment of civil counsel. I was granted that motion for civil counsel as a poor person; and during the time of my retrial, my first mistrial, that appointment of counsel was vacated. They took the counsel away from me. And so I’ve been left without counsel until, I think, December 7th. Attorney Richard Ostriak gave notice to the court and to the District Attorney’s office that they are representing my issues.

AMY GOODMAN: How are you adjusting? I mean, almost half your life you’re accompanied by guards anywhere you go, you’re shackled, you’re cuffed. How do you even walk out on the street?

HAROLD WILSON: Well, I can say one thing for sure: When I use public transportation, I do get lost a lot. And I either get off two blocks past my destination or two blocks before my destination. So, I’m not doing too well with SEPTA [South Eastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority]. And I walk a lot. Getting around is hard, because I have medical issues. That is another thing in itself I had to deal with, because in prison you get — you pay $2 and you get treated. It’s called co-pay. And out here I have medical issues, and when my 30-day supply of medication runs out, I’m stuck. I’m dealing with the suffering and the pains of arthritis, degenerated knee caps.

AMY GOODMAN: What was this caused by?

HAROLD WILSON: Huh?

AMY GOODMAN: What was all of this caused by?

HAROLD WILSON: This was caused by the conditions of my confinement and the past 18 years of surviving on death row, in the cold temperatures, the lack of sunshine and fresh air, you know, restricted. In some institutions I was restricted to one hour a day recreation, exercise, outdoor recreation. In other institutions, we had to file lawsuits to get two hours of outdoor recreation and sunshine and fresh air. So, these factors play a great part in deteriorating your memory, your eyes and your bones.

AMY GOODMAN: Harold, after 18 years, newly exonerated, in these last few minutes of the program is there anything you would just like to share with the people who are watching and listening in this country and around the world, as we move into this holiday season?

HAROLD WILSON: Certainly, I would hope that this story and its broadcast could open the hearts and the — the hearts and the pockets of some of the listeners that they would willfully and prayerfully try to render some kind of financial assistance, contrary to the hard and abusive manner in which I was released, you know what I mean, with nothing to compensate me, or that I can get through the holiday season, you know what I mean, just passing something nice off to my grandson, to my daughter, to my mom who has only received a card or a written piece of poetry from me for the last 18 years or so. You know, I know for a fact that she wanted a coat and I wanted — I really wanted to be the first to buy that coat for her. I know that my son in Iraq wanted a laptop, and there’s just so many things that at this point that I desire.

AMY GOODMAN:Harold C. Wilson, exonerated after more than 17 years in prison, most of that time on death row, freed last month with 65 cents and a token in his pocket. If you’d like to get in touch with him his email address is haroldcwilson@gmail.com. That’s haroldcwilson@gmail.com. His P.O. box is: Harold C. Wilson, P.O. Box 32084, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 19146. That’s Harold C. Wilson, P.O. Box 32084, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 19146.

Show Full Transcript ›
‹ Hide Full Transcript

Recent Shows More

Full News Hour

Creative Commons License The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.