February 9, 2022 – India Spellman becomes the first woman in more than a generation to be exonerated in Philadelphia
On February 9, 2023, India Spellman walked out of a Philadelphia courtroom a free woman. She spent over a decade in prison before being exonerated of the crimes that she had been wrongfully convicted of including second-degree murder, robbery, and related charges. India was just 17 years old at the time of her arrest and a standout high school basketball player. She had never previously been in trouble with the law.
We collaborated with India, her lawyer, and family to secure her exoneration. India Spellman did not commit those crimes and she should never have been a suspect, much less arrested, convicted, and sentenced to 30 years to life. Her wrongful conviction was the result of the fabricated testimony of a 14-year-old child, police misconduct and abuse, and an inept and ill-prepared trial attorney.
India is the first woman in more than a generation to be exonerated in Philadelphia. We hope she will not be the last. With your help, we will ensure that women & girls get the resources they need to successfully challenge wrongful convictions and unjust case outcomes. Please consider donating today.
You can read more about our advocacy efforts on her case here. Read more about India’s case below.
JUMP TO SECTION
At the center of this case are two crimes which occurred on the afternoon of August 18, 2010 in the city of Philadelphia. At approximately 2:30 pm, Shirley Phillips was robbed at gunpoint at a bus stop. She was approached by two individuals—a “black male and a black female.” The male stumbled toward her while the woman pointed a gun and demanded her purse and work bag. Ms. Phillips tossed her bags in the street and ran to a neighbor’s house for help.
Approximately an hour later at 3:48 pm, police in the 14th District received a radio call indicating that a “person with a gun” had been reported at a residence a few blocks away from the location of the Phillips robbery. When police arrived at the scene, they discovered the homeowner, George Greaves, lying face down in the bushes. He had been fatally shot once in the chest. He died at the scene.
The boy involved in these crimes was 14 years old. A close female family member turned him in to police. He had a distinctive facial tattoo that exactly matched eyewitness descriptions.
What remains a mystery is the identity of the woman.
Eyewitnesses estimated her age to be between 25 – 30 years old and described her physical characteristics as: “dark skinned,” “heavy,” “thick,” “chunky,” “size 18,” “180 lbs.”
Eyewitnesses also described what the mystery woman was wearing: “all black Muslim clothes” that included a head scarf that did not cover her face.
None of these descriptions match India Spellman. Not then and not now. In 2010, India was a skinny 17 year old who was a standout on her high school basketball team. The police officer who brought her in for questioning described her as “thin.”
She is light-skinned. She has never been Muslim. Police did not recover any Muslim garments in a search of her home. Check out these photos of India from the time period in question.
India, pictured on the right, with family.
India has an airtight alibi. During the time of the Phillips robbery and the Greaves murder, she was in her family’s home with her father and grandfather. Both men report that India was talking on the phone, sending text messages, and working on her computer throughout the afternoon.
India’s alibi is supported by phone records that include location and activity data. From 1 – 4 pm that afternoon, India was on 25 phone calls from her personal cell phone.
Notably, from 3:33 pm to 3:58 pm, India was on a 25 minute call to a friend. Recall that police received the radio call regarding gunshots at the Greaves residence at 3:48 pm.
It defies logic that India–a young teen with no history of trouble with the law–would somehow be able to hold her flip phone in one hand, carry on a normal conversation with a friend, all while taking aim and shooting a person she was purportedly attempting to rob.
Phone records showing India’s calls on August 18, 2010.
India only became a suspect in this case following police interrogation of the 14 year old child. The child incriminated himself and signed a statement maintaining that India was the shooter. He later filed a motion to have his initial statements to police suppressed. That motion was denied.
On the afternoon of August 20, four cops arrived at the Spellman home. Two were uniformed officers and two were homicide detectives. They placed India in handcuffs and separated her from her family. At no time did they indicate she was a suspect in the case.
Inside Philly PD’s notorious Roundhouse, India made multiple requests to exercise her Constitutional right to have her parents present during questioning. She further indicated that she had a learning disability that made it impossible for her to understand some of the written material officers demanded that she sign (including a Miranda waiver). Detectives ignored her requests.
Detectives similarly and strategically ignored the requests of her parents to be present during India’s questioning. At no time while she was in police custody was India able to see or make contact with her parents even though they were all there, in the same building.
This was a clear violation of India’s basic Constitutional rights and protections. It renders the entire interrogation illegal.
From the time India was placed in handcuffs and taken from her home, she was subject to psychological abuse and physical coercion by police. In her PRCRA petition, India alleges that one of the detectives on the case, James Pitts, physically assaulted her during the interrogation. She indicates that he hit her in the face and repeatedly poked her torso while hurling insults, derogatory names, and shouting that she was a “damn liar.”
Pitts was over 6 ft tall and 300 lbs. He towered over her and demanded that she sign an incriminating statement he had already typed up. He refused to read the statement to her even after she indicated that she had a learning disability. He promised if she signed it he would release her to her family.
This was a lie.
India was left alone in a room with the detective who had threatened and abused her. She was confused, injured, and terrified. She signed the statement while having no understanding of what it was that she was signing.
She never returned home.
Years later, similar allegations of assault, misconduct, and abuse perpetrated by Detective Pitts have come to light. Learn more here.
Shirley Phillips, the robbery victim, gave two statements to police on the day of the crimes. Her descriptions of the Mystery Woman were remarkably consistent and emphasized her dark skin tone, weight (“thick,” “size 18,” “180 lbs”), and clothing (dark, full length Muslim garb).
Nevertheless, at trial Phillips identified India as the person who robbed her despite very obvious physical differences.
What accounts for this glaring discrepancy?
Perhaps it was because Phillips forgot to bring her glasses with her into the courtroom. On the stand she confessed that without them, “I can’t see nothing. I’m blind as a bat.”
After a clerk retrieved her glasses and she was presumably able to get a better look at India, she acknowledged that India was neither dark-skinned or thick.
Excerpts from India’s trial transcript.
If you’re wondering how a jury could have found India guilty—particularly given the strength of her alibi—you’re not alone. We wondered that as well. And then we reviewed the trial transcripts.
Jurors were never informed of India’s alibi. They did not see phone records that established that she was at home, talking on the phone and texting, at the time of the murder.
They did not hear testimony from her father and her grandfather (a retired Philadelphia police officer) who were with her that afternoon in the family home and could vouch for her whereabouts.
They did not hear testimony from the friend she was on the phone with at the time of the murder.
Why not? India’s lawyer—the lawyer her family hired to defend her—did not bother to introduce this evidence. He did not track down potential witnesses to support her alibi—including the friend she was on the phone with at the time of the murder.
India’s lawyer did not ask follow-up questions when Ms. Phillips admitted in court that she was “blind” without her glasses. He did not even remark on the fact a key prosecution witness characterized herself as “blind as a bat.”
This was not a matter of poor legal strategy or less than adequate preparation.
It was an abysmal failure to present even a reasonably competent defense.
It was woefully ineffective assistance of counsel.
It was a violation of India Spellman’s 6th Amendment right to effective counsel.
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