On July 11, 2023, after almost twenty-seven years in prison on a wrongful conviction, John “Yahya” Moore left SCI Phoenix with his freedom. His release was granted after an agreement with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office to plead to a lesser offense in exchange for time served. Mr. Moore will be reunited with his family and friends after vigorously working to overturn his conviction throughout his unjust imprisonment. He is a member of a group of wrongfully convicted men colloquially known to others as “The Firm,” who learned the law and helped themselves and other prisoners litigate their cases from inside prison walls.
“The circumstances of John’ Yahya’ Moore’s case – a conviction grounded in scant evidence, a District Attorney’s Office and lead prosecutor emboldened to pursue charges despite the weak evidence, a court-appointed attorney who abdicated his responsibility to investigate and vigorously defend this matter, and a trial judge willing to convict – are all the predictable but maddening result of a system designed to crush Black people under its weight. But Mr. Moore was not crushed,” said Nia Holston, Mr. Moore’s lead counsel from the Abolitionist Law Center.
Sentenced to life without parole for second degree murder for a 1996 robbery in which two men were shot and one died, Mr. Moore’s conviction rested on the incredible, compromised testimony of Mr. Moore’s co-defendant in a bench trial, who testified in exchange for a lighter sentence. Defense counsel called no witnesses, conducted little to no investigation, and did nothing with sworn affidavits from potential witnesses who had information about the shooting that pointed to another suspect.
Crucially, the Commonwealth failed to turn over a list that included a credible alternate suspect, violating Mr. Moore’s constitutional rights. If Mr. Moore’s trial counsel had access to that list, which included the names of people who had been recently arrested for drug related offenses in the area near the murder (this was relevant because an eyewitness to the murder stated to police that she knew the perpetrators as two drug-dealers from the neighborhood), counsel could have conducted the necessary investigation that would have likely resulted in a different outcome at trial.
His decades-long incarceration highlights the rampant injustices within the criminal legal system that result in it prioritizing convictions over accuracy, creating an epidemic of incarcerating people for crimes they did not commit.
Dr. Andrew Scott, a nationally recognized expert in police practices, procedures, and investigations noted the significant constitutional violations and poor investigatory tactics in Mr. Moore’s case.
“The Philadelphia Police Department and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office had a responsibility to use all the tools at their disposal to investigate this case. Despite having access to basic investigatory tools that would have allowed them to identify a credible alternate suspect who closely fit the description offered by witnesses, they failed to do any discernible follow-up investigation and, instead, relied solely on the compromised statement of Mr. Moore’s co-defendant. Based on the lack of evidence, Mr. Moore should not have been charged with this murder.”
The Abolitionist Law Center fought diligently to support Mr. Moore’s legal efforts and bring him home from an unjust sentence and conviction while uplifting his significant impact on the lives of those inside and outside prison walls leading restorative justice and anti-violence efforts. Now that he is home, Mr. Moore looks forward to continuing this powerful work in the community.
“Despite the ever-churning wheels of injustice in the so-called criminal justice system, Mr. Moore challenged his conviction for years without a lawyer and, in the process, inspired countless individuals with his drive, his humility, and his intellect. We are happy that this day has come, but we remain sober about the thousands of people like him who remain in cages, burdened by a system that would rather see them buried alive than free. We will continue to fight,” said Nia Holston.