Inmate Willie Stokes has Life-Without-Parole Sentence from 1984 Murder Conviction Vacated

Inmate Willie Stokes had his life-without-parole sentence for a 1984 murder conviction vacated by a federal judge.

Last month, the judge, supported by Philadelphia's prosecutor, ruled that Willie Stokes' rights were violated due to no one informing him that a key witness against him was prosecuted for perjury after his conviction. The federal court said that Stokes will be retried within 120 days or be released.

The witness, Franklin Lee, lied at the Stokes' preliminary hearing for the murder of Leslie Campbell in North Philadelphia, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

"Defendant said Willie Stokes told him he killed Leslie Campbell," the charging document read, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. "Defendant knew Willie Stokes had not made such a statement."

Lee recanted this statement at Stoke's trial, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. He claims homicide detectives made the lie for him in exchange for access to sex and drugs.

"This remarkable case is marked by prosecutorial and policing practices that were too pervasive during the so-called tough-on-crime 1980s and 1990s, and unfortunately persist in far too many jurisdictions today," Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said in a statement. "Prosecutors have an obligation to seek justice, and to redefine prosecutorial success – not by 'wins' in the form of convictions, but by accuracy and fairness in resolving criminal investigations and prosecutions.

"Mr. Stokes' ordeal over nearly four decades of filing relief petition after relief petition, only to be rejected on procedural bases and without all of the evidence the Constitution says he was owed from the Commonwealth, underscores the urgency of the criminal legal system seeking justice over finality," Krasner said in the statement.

According to the statement, Magistrate Judge Carol Sandra Moore Wells found that "there is a reasonable probability that Stokes would have been acquitted without Lee's testimony and that the trial verdict is therefore unreliable."

Willie Stokes, Conviction Vacated, 1980 Murder
Witness Franklin Lee lied at Willie Stokes’ preliminary hearing for the 1980 murder of Leslie Campbell in North Philadelphia, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. In this photo, state troopers stand in the aisles as local law enforcement guard the doorways prior to the reading of the verdict in the murder trial of Edgar Ray Killen June 21, 2005, in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Rogelio Solis-Pool/Getty Images

The witness testified in November that he falsely implicated Stokes in the 1980 murder of Campbell in north Philadelphia because prosecutors at the time promised him a favorable deal on open cases against him.

Despite that, prosecutors got a conviction and life-without-parole sentence against Stokes and then pursued perjury charges against Lee for recanting his preliminary hearing testimony. For more than three decades, that perjury prosecution and conviction wasn't disclosed to Stokes, who could have used it in his appeals.

"We just want him home. It's been a long fight," Stokes' sister Renee told The Philadelphia Inquirer. The prosecutor's office hasn't said whether it plans to proceed with a new trial.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.