Eddie Ramirez -- Free after 27 Years of Wrongful Incarceration
On November 2, 2023, Eddie Ramirez’s conviction was vacated because the court found that his constitutional rights had been violated during the criminal proceedings and because new DNA evidence demonstrated his innocence. He had been wrongfully incarcerated for 27 years.
On November 30, 2023, Eddie finally walked free from the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution at Phoenix after the court granted the District Attorney’s request to dismiss all charges. Eddie returned home to his loving family, including his parents and two sisters.
Eddie is an advocate and an artist. While incarcerated, he successfully completed a paralegal certificate course. He also earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from Villanova University. While enrolled at Villanova, Eddie successfully advocated for incarcerated students to be eligible for the Dean’s List. He then went on to earn a place on the Dean’s List multiple times. He also cultivated a long-term relationship with the Mural Arts Program in Philadelphia through which he had his works of art displayed at the world-renowned Barnes Foundation. Eddie has been a spokesperson for the wrongly convicted and the Latinx community throughout his incarceration and looks forward to continuing his advocacy work.
The Pennsylvania Innocence Project represents Eddie with our 2022 Maureen Rowley Award Recipient Michael Wiseman of Wiseman & Schwartz LLP and Andrew Childers of the Federal Community Defender Office.
How did this happen?
Eddie's Wrongful Arrest and Conviction
Eddie Ramirez, 19 at the time, spent February 20, 1995, visiting friends in a home across from a laundromat in Northeast Philadelphia. Around 11:00 PM, he went to the laundromat to buy a soda for his friends’ father who also worked there.
That night Joyce Dennis was working alone at the laundromat. At some point during the evening, Mrs. Dennis was beaten to death. The laundromat was also robbed.
In the months following the murder, police interviewed many of Eddie’s teenage friends. One friend, Billy Weihe, implicated Eddie in the robbery-murder but immediately recanted his statement. A month later, Billy again implicated Eddie and again recanted. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office convened a grand jury, but it did not indict Eddie. A year or so later, Detective McDermott took over the investigation and began another round of interviews. In July 1996, a year-and-a-half after the crime, Billy again implicated both himself and Eddie, claiming that he acted as a lookout and that Eddie robbed the laundromat and killed Mrs. Dennis. Police then arrested Eddie and Billy.
Billy negotiated a deal to plead guilty to third-degree murder in exchange for cooperating with prosecutors. He became the Commonwealth’s star witness at Eddie’s trial. Billy and another of Eddie’s teenage friends claimed that they knew Eddie had committed the robbery because his pockets were full of change on the night of Mrs. Dennis’s murder. Other teenage witnesses testified that Eddie had confessed to committing the crime while they were all at a party.
At trial, Eddie’s attorney argued that Eddie could not have been the perpetrator and that the witnesses were unreliable. He asserted that, given the bloody nature of the crime, the perpetrator would have been covered in blood, which Eddie was not. He also asserted that the perpetrator would not have had change in his pockets because only cash was stolen from the laundromat. The prosecutor dismissed both claims—telling the jury that the argument about the bloody nature of the crime scene was just “movie talk” and that “of course” there was change because it was a laundromat.
The jury convicted Eddie of second-degree murder, and the court gave him the mandatory life without parole sentence. Billy, who faced up to 50 years in prison, was sentenced to just 5-10 years after Eddie’s conviction and was released early on parole.
Eddie's Quest to Prove His Innocence
Eddie maintained his innocence from the very beginning. In 2001, during Eddie’s first post-conviction proceedings, Mrs. Dennis’s fingernail clippings were discovered in the Medical Examiner’s possession. The existence of this evidence had never been revealed to the defense team, nor had the evidence been tested for DNA. The trial prosecutor testified that he would have made the defense aware of the evidence and subjected the clippings to forensic testing before trial if he had known about them. This was the beginning of the discovery of a plethora of suppressed evidence that played a significant role in Eddie’s exoneration.
Post-conviction DNA testing of this new evidence excluded Eddie as the source of male DNA found in the clippings. However, even though the Medical Examiner testified at trial that Mrs. Dennis had struggled with her attacker, the court found that these results were not exculpatory. It denied Eddie post-conviction relief.
Eddie then sought post-conviction relief in federal court, and attorneys from the Federal Community Defender Office began to represent him, re-investigating the case. During that investigation, all of the teenage witnesses who had once implicated Eddie recanted except for Billy Weihe. All of them consistently cited police pressure and threats as the reason they made statements against Eddie.
In 2015, Eddie, now also represented by Michael Wiseman, filed another state post-conviction petition based on these recantations. In 2016, after conducting a thorough review of Eddie’s case, the Project joined the team and sought additional post-conviction DNA testing. Although the Commonwealth initially opposed that testing, it later reversed its position, and the testing went forward. In 2019, DNA testing results excluded Eddie from DNA on multiple items of crime scene evidence, including the handle of a wooden broom the trial prosecutor said had been used to beat Mrs. Dennis. In addition, DNA of another man—not Eddie—was found on a metal pipe used to beat Mrs. Dennis and on a fleece vest found in the laundromat that the trial prosecutor said the perpetrator had used to wipe off blood after the beating.
Around the same time that the exculpatory DNA results were revealed, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office conceded that one of the detectives involved in Eddie’s case had a pattern of eliciting false witness statements. This concession was consistent with the witnesses’ accounts of coercion and misconduct during this investigation. The District Attorney’s Office then allowed the Project to review its files in this case. Those files contained multiple items of suppressed favorable evidence that would have bolstered every aspect of Eddie’s trial defense—that the perpetrator would have been covered in blood, that only cash was stolen, and that the witnesses against him were unreliable—and contained information about other suspects that would have allowed him to mount an alternate perpetrator defense.
In 2023, after decades of asking courts to affirm Eddie’s conviction, the District Attorney’s Office reversed course and joined us in asking that Eddie’s conviction be vacated, highlighting 12 pieces of hidden evidence, the new DNA evidence, and the consistent allegations of police misconduct. They stated that, “Edward Ramirez’s second-degree murder conviction was based on less than overwhelming evidence, hinging on witnesses who offered shifting narratives and no physical evidence. We now know that the prosecution suppressed a large amount of material that would have been favorable to Ramirez’s defense, undercutting the prosecution’s case and calling into question the good faith of the larger investigation.”
After vacating Eddie’s conviction on November 2, 2023, the Court granted the Commonwealth’s motion to dismiss on November 30th and issued orders calling for Eddie’s immediate release.
Over the years, an entire team of Project staff members and interns have worked on Eddie’s case along with Michael Wiseman and with the staff of the Federal Community Defender Office. It truly has taken a village to reach this result.
You can read more about Eddie's case here: