Number of years spent wrongfully imprisoned: 25
Age at the time of conviction: 21
Chester wrote to the Pennsylvania Innocence Project in 2009, and we started representing him in 2013. By this time, new exculpatory evidence had come to light. In 2001, Andre Dawkins had recanted his trial testimony, saying that he never saw Chester at the scene and only identified him because of threats by the police. In 2005, Deirdre Jones had also recanted, saying that she gave a false testimony because police had refused her requests for a lawyer and threatened to charge her with a crime.
In February 2018, the Project, along with co-counsel Alan Tauber of the Law Office of Alan J. Tauber, P.C., asked the Philadelphia County District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) to review Chester’s conviction. The CIU agreed and handed over the police and prosecution files for the case.
These files revealed that substantial evidence had been withheld from the defense, including: proof that the Commonwealth knew about Dawkins’s full criminal record before Dawkins testified at trial (which would have impeached him as a witness), as well as information about another credible suspect that the police had investigated, Denise Combs. Within 24 hours of the crime, an anonymous caller tipped off the police that Denise Combs was involved. Denise Combs had leased an identical white SUV with license plate letters YZA during the time of the crime. Police had investigated Denise Combs and her return of the white SUV at 5 a.m., four hours after the shooting, and found out that Jeffrey Green was listed as an additional driver. Green had a prior record of violent crimes. Moreover, Denise Combs’s brother was convicted of two separate third-degree murders. Police interviewed Combs in the days after the murder. Yet inexplicably, the investigation ended there.
In July 2018, the Project and Tauber filed a Post-Conviction Relief Act petition (PCRA) seeking a new trial for Chester in light of this newly discovered evidence. After the CIU’s re-investigation of the case, they joined the Project’s petition to vacate Chester’s convictions. The Court granted the petition, and Chester was released after 28 years in prison. Then finally, on July 30, 2019, the charges against Chester were completely dismissed. At the hearing, CIU director Patricia Cummings said, “I apologize to Chester Hollman. I apologize because he was failed, and in failing him, we failed the victim, and we failed the community of the city of Philadelphia.”
Congratulations to Chester and his family! And many thanks to our former executive director Marissa Bluestine, who fought for Chester since the beginning, and co-counsel Alan Tauber, without whose dedication this would not have been possible.