Philly man’s conviction tainted by ‘sex for lies’ scandal is overturned after 44 years

Back in the late 1970s, Emanuel “Manny” Claitt was facing numerous criminal cases that carried decades or even life in prison.

Then Philadelphia homicide detectives offered Claitt a way out — if he would testify that William Franklin had killed Joseph Hollis in a Brewerytown poolroom in 1976. According to an affidavit and a statement made on video before his death in 2020, Claitt said the detectives also offered to sweeten the deal with access to sex with one of his girlfriends in an interrogation room at the Roundhouse, then Philadelphia’s police headquarters.

Claitt took the deal. And William Franklin served 44 years in prison based on Claitt’s testimony.

On Tuesday, Franklin was released. Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Tracy Brandeis-Roman had overturned his conviction, based largely on Claitt’s recanted testimony.

She said the case was tainted by a decades-old police scandal that a 2021 Inquirer investigation called “Sex for Lies.”

“This court is not fond of the notion” that Philadelphia prosecutors have closed cases using coercion and secret incentives, she said.

But the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office said Tuesday evening it filed a notice of appeal — meaning the 77-year-old man could land back in prison if an appeals court disagrees with Brandeis-Roman’s ruling.

The office has argued that Claitt’s recantation wasn’t credible. The prosecutor said Claitt’s statement was written out for him by a defense attorney and read verbatim. It also noted that Claitt had never recanted under oath, and had failed to show up in court when given the opportunity to testify.

And while Claitt’s recantation, in theory, went against his own interest since he was admitting perjury — and a statement against a person’s interest is normally given more weight by the court — the DA said that shouldn’t be considered, since the statute of limitations for perjury had expired.

But Brandeis-Roman said she wasn’t convinced by the DA’s argument. “This would permit the Commonwealth to essentially rig the game” and avoid future scrutiny, she said.

For now, Franklin is on house arrest — and his family is celebrating. His lawyer, Joseph Marrone, said there is no evidence left with which to retry him.

When Franklin finally emerged from the jail on Tuesday, a cheer went up: “He’s out! He’s home!”

Rasheedah Franklin, left, greets her father William Franklin, right, while in the Gina Gibson embraces her sister Lisa Justice, and Steve Crawford Jr. smiles in the background. The family members were all on State Road in Northeast Philadelphia to welcome Franklin home from prison.

They celebrated with lunch at the North Philadelphia home of Franklin’s grandson Steve Crawford Jr. There, Franklin was surrounded by the large family whose devotion had kept his hope alive over more than four decades.

His four daughters and extended family had hung balloons and a “welcome home” sign. His daughter Gina Gibson said that when he spotted the king-size bed, the gray-bearded senior jumped on it like a kid, saying, “You mean I get to roll over — twice?”

Crawford said he was happy to make space for his grandfather. “Our grandmother instilled in us at a very, very young age to make sure that we loved him, and if this day ever came to make sure we took care of him. We didn’t know that this day would ever come.”

Detectives Lawrence Gerrard, left, and Earnest Gilbert, from the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1990.

Franklin was one of six men whose cases were profiled in the 2021 Inquirer investigation that exposed the alleged pattern spearheaded by homicide detectives Larry Gerrard and Ernest Gilbert. Gerrard and Gilbert are deceased. In 1990, after a man’s conviction was overturned based on his claim that the detectives offered him access to sex if he confessed to a murder, Gerrard said the allegation was “a lie.”

One other man featured in the investigation, Willie Stokes, was exonerated after 38 years in prison, and in 2023 received a $9.62 million settlement with the City of Philadelphia.

Lawyer Michael Diamondstein hugs Willie Stokes outside the Philadelphia’s criminal justice center after the Philadelphia DA dropped charges against him in 2022.

Franklin was arrested when his youngest daughter, Rasheedah, was just 4 years old. She grew up visiting her father in prison.

“My mother took us faithfully. She told us to keep him in our prayers,” Rasheedah Franklin said.

But his absence was an extreme hardship, his oldest daughter, Sherri Griffin, said. The family had to borrow money for rent, and rely on food pantries for groceries.

Lisa Justice, left, and her sister Rasheedah Franklin, right, who holds a tablet to communicate with their sister Gina Gibson. An image of their mother Shirley Franklin is shown on a blanket. Shirley died in 2021, after 40 years supporting her husband William Franklin’s fight for exoneration.

Before their mother, Shirley Franklin, died two years ago, she had one request, Rasheedah Franklin said. “Take care of him.”

Michael White, whose conviction was overturned last year after 47 years in prison, was also there to support Franklin. He said that he knew Franklin from the neighborhood 50 years ago, and that he, too, was framed by Gerrard and other detectives. (The lone eyewitness against him said the prosecutor had instructed her to lie.) All of the men implicated in “Sex for Lies” were from North Philadelphia or Brewerytown during the height of the Black Mafia — a period of extraordinary violence that resulted in numerous cold-case murders.

White said the neighborhood men were convenient targets for police determined to close those cases.

Other men locked up by Gerrard and Gilbert are still fighting to reverse their convictions, including Major Tillery, who was convicted of the Pickens murder as an alleged co-conspirator with Franklin. Tillery’s case hinged on the testimony of a second jailhouse informant who told The Inquirer that the detectives instructed Claitt to recruit him in the sex-for-lies scheme.

That informant, Bobby Mickens, now 71, testified at an evidentiary hearing last year that detectives and an assistant district attorney forced him to sign a false statement. He said that he’d been facing 40 to 80 years in prison for crimes he committed — and potentially life in prison, for crimes he didn’t commit, based on statements by even more jailhouse informants.

He ended up serving only about four years after he agreed to cooperate in Tillery’s case and three other murder cases. And, he alleged, police enabled him to have private meetings with three different women while he was incarcerated.

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