The Witness to Innocence family has suffered a heartrending loss with the passing of our brother, Harold Wilson, on May 18, 2019. He was the 122nd person to be exonerated from death row in the United States. Harold was a man of great dignity and determination. He spent 16 long, hard years wrongfully incarcerated, 10 on Pennsylvania’s death row, fighting to prove his innocence. When he gained his freedom, he dedicated his life to fighting for death penalty abolition and speaking out forcefully on what he called the “criminal injustice system.”
Harold was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death in 1989 and came within eight days of execution in 1996. Harold’s death sentenced was overturned in 1999, but he remained on death row while fighting for a new trial. In 2003, an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court resulted in a new hearing, based on racially discriminatory practices in jury selection by the prosecutor in Harold’s case, Assistant District Attorney Jack McMahon. Finally, in 2005, new DNA evidence demonstrated that blood from the crime scene was not Harold’s and implicated another assailant. The jury acquitted him of all charges.
Harold spoke strongly about the inhumane treatment he faced on death row, which resulted in his ongoing health struggles. He never received any compensation for the years he was wrongfully incarcerated, nor for the toll it took on him. That we have lost him so soon is a result of the injustice he faced and it will be in his memory that we continue to fight such injustices.
Harold will be profoundly missed by those who knew and loved him. He cared so deeply for his family that he said worrying about their wellbeing was worse than being sentenced to death. To his fellow death row exonerees, Harold was a big brother. We will miss his phone calls and his text messages of inspiring philosophical quotes and words of encouragement.
Harold Wilson was a mountain of a man. His work will be a mountain range of efforts that are forged in stone for all to see. His vision will not dim with his passing, but will live on through all the death row survivors that remain. The strength and steadfastness of his call for justice endures as a legacy for us all to emulate. Rest now brother, you will remain a monument for all time.
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