Civics: Philly judge stuns wrongly convicted juvenile lifer by setting him free after 21 years in prison

Samantha Melamed

After fighting for 21 years to be exonerated of participating in a 1996 West Philadelphia murder, Terrance Lewis had given up.

He withdrew his petition to vacate his conviction in February — an agonizing decision — to clear the way to be resentenced after a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that automatic life-without-parole sentences for juveniles were illegal. It would mean he’d get out of prison eventually — but he’d be on parole for life, and his name would never be cleared.

Tuesday, something happened at his resentencing that neither Lewis and his lawyers, nor the District Attorney’s Office, whose Conviction Integrity Unit had been investigating the case, had anticipated.

Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Barbara McDermott decided to review his innocence claim on the spot and — due to what she deemed “a denial of due process” — threw out his conviction. The district attorney declined to retry the case.