A North Philly family is hitting the streets Thursday to protest their family member's long incarceration for a murder they said he did not commit.
Jerome “Hoagie” Coffey, 46, has been behind bars for 23 years -- since March 3, 1993. He and family members say he was inside building a crib when they heard shooting on the street.
“My nephew, he was just born. I was trying to put a crib together at the same time the dude got killed,” Coffey said in a call from a state prison in Houtzdale.
Johnny Moss, 24, died in a hail of gunfire that night in December 1992. A few months later, Coffey was arrested and charged with the murder.
Since then, Coffey has filed appeal after appeal. His conviction was upheld by the state Supreme Court in 2013.
Now, he has new evidence for an appeal: the just-unsealed indictment charging his former appeal attorney, Philly lawyer J. Michael Farrell, with money laundering and drug trafficking, which Coffey said supports his theory that Farrell was ineffective counsel.
His family will be protesting Thursday outside the DA's office to draw attention to the case and to seek assistance from Philly prosecutors in finding justice.
"We don't have a problem with Seth Williams," Coffey said. "We have a problem with Lynne Abraham and the way she had assistant district attorneys conduct these cases."
Coffey has had a tough time in prison. He said he spent 12 years in solitary before being relocated to Houtzdale.
The state Department of Corrections did not respond to a request to confirm Coffey’s time in solitary, but attorney Bret Grote, legal director of the Pittsburgh-based Abolitionist Law Center was in touch with Coffey while he was in “the hole.”
“He was not racking up additional violations while he was in solitary confinement. It was really hard to pin down the original reason for holding him down there,” Grote said of Coffey’s stay in solitary -- which Grote pointed out is considered torture by the United Nations.
“To serve a prison sentence for a crime you didn’t commit is unspeakable, and then to spend that time in the prison within the prison is just like a nightmare.”
What evidence does Coffey have of his innocence? Just his word and that of his family members, several of whom testified at trial, that he was in the house working on the crib when Moss was killed.
But the prosecution case wasn’t exactly strong either.
One witness, Nemo Kennedy, told police Coffey confessed, saying, “We did Johnny… that’s just how the game goes.” On the stand, Kennedy amended that to “We did something,” then reversed himself again and said he was afraid of retribution, according to court documents. Coffey insists that Kennedy was a paid informant who helped homicide detectives pin the murder on him for financial gain.
As to why? Coffey doesn't know, beyond assuming detectives wanted the case solved and knew Coffey already had a record.
Coffey's twin sister Jeanne said even just getting her brother relocated to a prison closer to the family and their ailing mother would be a step forward.
“They robbed me of my brother,” Jeanne said, who recalled the heavy toll that solitary took on her brother’s mind.
“One time we went to visit him and he just broke down crying. He was saying, ‘You just don’t know what they did to me.’”