Veteran Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers had never heard of such a thing – seven accused murderers freed from prison in a single stroke. Seven men, accused members of a ruthless drug gang, were ordered released from prison last week because the District Attorney’s office was found o have delayed too long in bringing them to trial, in violation of Pennsylvania’s one-year speedy-trial rule, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. A dispute has arisen between prosecutors and defense lawyers on whether the defendants, who had been in prison since 1997 and 1998, should have been tried on murder charges five or six years ago.
Defense lawyers contend that prosecutors had adequate evidence to bring the men to trial in the late 1990s, but dragged out pretrial proceedings for years seeking to add a racketeering charge to the case. “They didn’t need any fancy charge for this case,” said Dennis J. Cogan, lawyer for alleged gang leader James Drayton, who is now free. “They didn’t need the corrupt organization [racketeering] charge. It makes no sense.” Cathie Abookire, spokeswoman for District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham, said the discharge of Drayton and his codefendants, accused of murders and other violent crimes, had caused anguish among prosecutors. “Why would we want to delay the prosecution of seven murderers?” Abookire said. “There’s no reason on earth to do that. We needed that racketeering charge to stitch this together to show the interdependence of these acts.”