In 1991, Jimmy Dennis was only 21 years old when he was convicted of the gruesome murder of 17-year old Chedell Ray Williams in broad daylight in North Philadelphia. Dennis was sent to death row. With no physical evidence, DNA, or a weapon, the musician spent 25 years in prison and was finally exonerated in 2017. Now, he is fighting the City of Philadelphia to compensate him for being wrongfully convicted.
Dennis, now 50, was accused of killing Williams who was fatally shot in North Philadelphia after a man tried to steal her earrings. All because witnesses and rumors implicated Dennis as the killer. The aspiring R&B musician, who was expecting his first child at the time with his girlfriend, Helen, had his freedom taken away. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Dennis had no known connection to the victim and had an alibi at the time indicating that “he’d been traveling from his father’s house to the projects at the time of the murder. He even waved to one of his neighbors.”
Additionally, the alleged killer was reportedly 5’10 or taller. Jimmy Dennis is only 5’4.
Like many wrongfully convicted people in Philadelphia in the 1980s and 1990s, Dennis was aggressively pursued by an infamous Black prosecutor named Roger King who was known for locking up numerous Black men.
In an interview on Sirius XM’s The Clay Cane Show, Dennis revealed his thoughts about King’s prosecution saying, “I'm sitting in a trial and all I'm hearing is lie after lie by Roger King and these police officers. To this very day, I still have nightmares. I wake up in cold sweats reliving the trial and everything that has happened to me.”
Roger King passed away in 2013 and because of his decades-long career and stellar homicide conviction record, he is often praised by the City of Philadelphia as a man with a “heart of gold.” In fact King once held the record for obtaining more death penalty convictions than any other prosecutor.
“Everybody in this city knows Roger King was a corrupt district attorney… when you have corruption from police officers and district attorneys, they need to answer for that in the form of justice — of them going to prison They don't need to be working no more. They need to lose their pensions. They don't need to have cushy retirement jobs.”
Dennis’ time on death row was riffed with physcial and pshycholgiocal torture. He was assaulted while in prison several times and lost 30 percent of his hearing.
“I have teeth in my mouth that have literally been knocked down on the side from being hit, being jumped by prisoners and set up by guards… Death row is a day-to-day assault on a human spirit,” said Dennis.
Sadly, Pennsylvania does not compensate the wrongfully convicted but exonerees have been compensated via civil lawsuits, like Chester Hollman, who was awarded over 9 million for wrongfully spending 28 years in prison.
Dennis has been in a three-year legal battle for compensation. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports, “After the Third Circuit judges threw out Dennis’ original conviction in 2016, he had two options: sit in prison while he awaited another appeal by the DA, which... could have taken two years or more, or take a plea deal. In Dennis’s case, the DA agreed not to appeal to the Supreme Court if Dennis would plead ‘no contest’ to a reduced charge of third-degree murder; he would then be released immediately for time served.”
A no-contest plea is not uncommon in claims of wrongful conviction.
Dennis is now waiting on a decision from the Third Circuit judges on whether or not he will finally be compensated but he says the City of Philadelphia “has been fighting tooth and nail not to do right by me.”
Dennis told Cane, “This is them [City of Philadelphia] putting me through more hurt, more pain and all I want is a sense of justice.”
The father of two claims the City of Philadelphia has never even apologized to him.
He continued, “What my mother, my two daughters and my family went through and what I still go through… I'm in therapy no less than twice a week. I'm on medication for PTSD, panic, and anxiety attacks. I literally live my life in a bubble now because I don't want to go anywhere.”
Watch the full interview with Jimmy Dennis below on The Clay Cane Show.
You can also listen to Jimmy Dennis' music on Spotify.
Photo Credit: Corby Johnson