Man wrongfully accused of six murders files federal lawsuit against Philadelphia, former DA

Christoper Williams was charged with six murders he didn't commit in Philadelphia. All were from 1989.

TaRhonda Thomas Image
Wednesday, December 1, 2021
EMBED <>More Videos

"This system targeted him as they do so many young men and women of color," said attorney Ben Crump.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Christopher Williams' family began with a prayer before speaking about one of the most traumatic times in their lives: the 31 years they spent watching Williams be imprisoned for crimes he didn't commit.

"I've often asked myself, 'why me?' But I now ask myself, 'why not me?'," said Williams.

Williams was charged with six murders he didn't commit in Philadelphia. All were from 1989. He was acquitted in two of the cases and convicted of the other four murders. He thinks the conviction was retribution from the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office at the time, when Williams called out wrongdoings during his first trials.

Williams was sent to death row after being convicted of the four murders. Twice, a judge signed death warrants for Williams' execution. He was within days of dying.

"I can't tell you what it felt like each time they signed that death warrant for my brother," said Maxine Mathis while holding back tears.

Williams received exonerations in December 2019 and in February 2021. After the second exoneration, he was freed.

The father of six now gets to enjoy holding his family for the first time in decades.

"I have 26 grandchildren and I have five great-grandchildren," he said. "It's an out-of-body experience (to hug them). It's happiness. It's joy. It's everything."

Williams says he always played an active role as a father, even behind bars. He tried to make sure his children always had a reason to smile, even though he was facing an injustice.

On Wednesday, he and his attorneys took a step towards restorative justice. Alongside nationally-recognized attorney Ben Crump and other attorneys, Williams filed a civil lawsuit in federal court.

"This system targeted him as they do so many young men and women of color," said Crump.

Twenty-two parties are named in the lawsuit including the City of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office and former District Attorney Lynne Abraham, who positioned herself as tough on crime in the 90s.

Abraham had no comment when we contacted her, but the current District Attorney's Office, which exonerated Williams under its Conviction Integrity Unit said, Williams' wrongful convictions are "emblematic of a time in which police and prosecutors more or less operated in an accountability-free environment."

"Evidence was ignored when it was inconvenient or when it contradicted the story that the city wanted to tell," said John Marrese who is also one of Williams' attorneys.

The lawsuit also names several Philadelphia police officers and two assistant district attorneys, accusing them of withholding evidence, coercing witnesses and even trying to coerce Williams into confessing.

"He would tell me, 'Max, I can't do it'," recalled Mathis. "He always held on to who he was."

Williams is back home but not done fighting.

"I'm not trying to be a martyr," he said, "I'm just a man. I'm a father. I'm a brother. I'm an uncle."