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Harold Wilson (1958-2019)

Exoneree Name

State: Pennsylvania

Convicted: 1989

Exonerated: 2005

Race: Black

DNA used in exoneration? Yes

Reasons for wrongful conviction:

Prosecutorial misconduct


Harold Wilson was acquitted, based on DNA evidence, of a triple homicide on November 15, 2005. He survived more than 16 years wrongfully incarcerated, 10 on death row. Harold was prosecuted during his 1989 trial by former Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Jack McMahon, best known for his role in a training video that advised new prosecutors on using race in selecting death penalty juries.

Harold was convicted of three counts of murder and sentenced to death after the murder and robbery of three people in South Philadelphia. “I was in shock for at least a month after the verdict,” Harold recalls. “The only thought that ran through my mind was, ‘How are they going to kill me three times?’ My life was gone and no one in the system cared about my innocence.”

A subsequent appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court resulted in a new hearing, based on McMahon’s racially discriminatory practices in jury selection in Harold’s case. When new DNA evidence demonstrated that blood from the crime scene was not Harold’s – indicating another assailant – the jury acquitted him of all charges. With his family in the courtroom, Harold wept as the jury read the verdict.

After gaining his freedom, Harold devoted himself steadfastly to the fight against the death penalty and against what he called the "criminal injustice system." He shared his story with audiences throughout the country and asked them “Is the death penalty worth killing one innocent person? Was it worth killing me?”

Harold passed away on May 18, 2019. He often spoke out about the inhumane treatment he faced on death row, which resulted in his ongoing heath struggles. He never received any compensation for the years he was wrongfully incarcerated, nor for the toll it took on him. That we 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 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.


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