At age 17, Philadelphian Terrance Lewis found himself falsely accused of the 1996 murder of Hulon Howard, incriminated by the deceased’s girlfriend who was under the influence of crack cocaine at the time. After an excruciating two-year-long investigation, Lewis was ultimately convicted of murder and sent to prison. He would remain wrongfully incarcerated for the next twenty-one years, until a new defense team, groundbreaking Supreme Court ruling, and pragmatic Common Pleas Judge helped pave the way to his 2019 exoneration. Upon release, Lewis successfully filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city of Philadelphia and appropriated the funds to launch the Terrance Lewis Liberation Foundation, a non-profit that advocates for wrongfully convicted and disproportionately sentenced peoples. Tune in to this installment of Open Mike to find out how he managed to reassemble his life and give back to others who have been similarly victimized.

Show Notes

[00:13] Terrance Lewis’s background and bio.

[00:49] Terrance, welcome to the show. I’m so happy to have you here, today.

[1:00] I’ve read a lot about you and I have to say I’m so sorry you spent nineteen years in prison for a murder you didn’t commit. It’s just a heartbreaking story and I’m so pleased you’re approaching a two-year milestone of being released. I’m honored to have you on the show.

[01:48] Terrance actually spent over twenty-one years in prison.

[02:57] It’s scary how common these stories are, how common the injustice and the fraud is. It’s just mind-boggling…

[03:38] Let’s go back to 1997, you were nineteen years old, expecting your first child, a month away from being born… were you excited about becoming a dad?

[04:58] Were you able to build a connection with your son while you were in prison?

[05:59] Terrance was placed in the farthest regions of Pennsylvania, far from his hometown of Philadelphia, further isolating him from his family.

[06:15] How many times did you see your son in those twenty-one years?

[07:21] Let’s go back to 1997 again… there was a murder in your neighborhood, you were living with your cousin, didn’t have a ton of money… did you hear about this murder or know that something happened?

[08:42] When was the first time you were notified you were a suspect? Was it when the police approached you?

[09:33] Tell us how the police became convinced of your guilt and arrested you?

[11:29] One of the witnesses had gotten high on crack cocaine prior to alleging Terrance’s guilt. Police then manipulated and exploited her unreliable memory to spoon feed her contrived information that pinned the murder on Terrance.

[13:15] They never got a wrongful confession out of you, correct? They never tied you with DNA, a weapon, or any evidence except for a known addict who was getting high when she allegedly saw you, correct?

[14:01] There were two other people convicted who were with you at the time, yes?

[15:24] Who was your defense attorney for your trial?

[16:37] Was this a court-appointed attorney or did you retain him with money?

[18:56] Did you meet your attorney before the trial?

[20:57] How many days was your trial?

[21:30] A lot of these wrongful conviction trials are short jury trials with poor defense attorneys who aren’t calling up witnesses or cross-examining… did he mount any defense once the trial was going? Were you aware during your trial that things were going horribly awry?

[24:21] Where were you at the time of the murder? Did you have an alibi?

[26:18] None of that makes sense and it’s shocking to hear these types of stories. Did your attorney call any witnesses at all on your behalf?

[27:58] Terrance, with all due love and respect, you keep saying you’re not a lawyer… but you’re smarter than a lot of lawyers I know — you don’t have to be a lawyer to brainstorm these facts you’re presenting, which makes your situation even sadder. Did you testify at trial? You mentioned that you wanted to, but did you ever take the stand?

[32:05] Take us through the process of how you were exonerated — what happened along that journey?

[34:07] In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to give minors like Lewis mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole. In 2016, a second ruling from the high court made that decision retroactive, giving Lewis the opportunity to be resentenced.

[38:11] You went to a judge, prepared to plead guilty to a crime you didn’t commit in order to win your innocence… and that judge decided to not make you go through with that, and vacated your sentence on the spot — is that basically what happened?

[40:54] I want to talk about how you got your paralegal degree while you were in prison — is that true?

[41:13] You got out of prison and you had job offers! That was actually a positive aspect, and I’m curious — are you working now? What are you currently doing?

[41:40] Terrance is in the process of opening his own foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit, the Terrance Lewis Liberation Foundation, dedicated to advocating for wrongfully convicted people and those serving disproportionate sentences. The Liberation Foundation also seeks to support formerly incarcerated folks and challenge police and prosecutorial misconduct.

[43:46] You filed a civil lawsuit after you got out and won over $6 million — congratulations, you deserve it! And you’re using your own money to help other people get out of prison, which is commendable. Is that what you’re doing full-time now?

[45:24] You had a dream to go to college, our notes say. Is that something you’re still pursuing?

[47:01] I commend you for all the work you’re doing to give back. And I’m so sorry you lost those 21 years. I love your attitude and energy. I’ve become friends with some exonerees in Detroit, and they have similar character — they’re caring people, loving people, they care about their community and aren’t consumed by rage or vengeance. And I get the same vibes from you.

[48:29] Keep up the good fight, Terrance. Good luck with your son, your foundation… we appreciate you coming on Open Mike. Thanks again, it was so nice to meet you!

[49:01] There you have it — Terrance Lewis, exoneree from Pennsylvania, what a crazy story…if you’ve been following our wrongful conviction series, it’s just more of the same. If you know anybody who needs to see this, forward it to them, like it, subscribe to our channels, and thank you for being a fan of Open Mike. Take care!

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