by Terry Trudeau
St. Vincent de Paul Church in Germantown recently hosted a welcome home event for Chester Hollman, III, a recent exoneree from the Philadelphia criminal justice …
by Terry Trudeau
St. Vincent de Paul Church in Germantown recently hosted a welcome home event for Chester Hollman, III, a recent exoneree from the Philadelphia criminal justice system. Hollman was incarcerated for 28 years for a crime he did not commit. The event was successful in giving the audience a lesson in prosecutorial misconduct. The evening included a musical performance by the “Gospel Disciples” led by Joe Hollman, the highlight of which was an original piece that was composed for Chester expressing their hope for his homecoming.
The audience also heard from Dennis Crosson, the private investigator who worked for 20 years to gain Hollman’s release, and from Tasha Williams, Esq., who spoke of prosecutorial misconduct as she has experienced it from both sides of the aisle. She was a long-time advocate for wrongly convicted individuals and is now working as a prosecutor in the District Attorney’s office in York. An important part of her presentation was her work with a group that is working not just to offer support for people unjustly incarcerated but also to bring about systemic changes.
In this season of hope, when we all look for the big and small answers to our prayers – hope for a better world for our children, hope for peace, hope for an end to divisiveness and strife – it was inspiring to participate in an evening of hearing the hope of one man fulfilled as he told of his journey from incarceration to freedom. Hollman was arrested, tried, and convicted of a crime he did not commit and spent 28 years of his life in prison, never losing hope for his exoneration. It came just a few months ago when his father, Chester Hollman Jr., and his sister Deanna were contacted and told that their son and brother was to be released. No advance notice, no time to plan a homecoming, just “Come and get your son.”
Months ago when the Peace and Justice Ministry of St. Vincent de Paul Church in Germantown hosted “Art for Justice” for a filming of a Netflix documentary on the subject of unjust incarceration, Hollman’s father and sister told the audience of their decades long, unrelenting struggle to get their son and brother released. It was mainly due to the unfailing efforts of Crosson, the private investigator, who believed in Hollman and found several instances of prosecutorial misconduct – intimidation of witnesses, withholding of evidence from the defense, rush to judgment, improper pressure on the defendant – that Chester is home today.
Crosson told the audience at both of the events that he uncovered these instances with difficulty but was determined as he truly believed that Hollman was innocent. Most agreed that were it not for Larry Krasner being district attorney, Hollman would still be languishing in prison despite the fact that the witness had long ago recanted her story, and there was evidence that the prosecution had rushed to judgment spurred on by the many homicides that were occurring in the city at that time.
What was truly amazing and most inspiring were the words of Chester himself who harbors no revenge, only gratitude and relief that his ordeal is over. His biggest regret was not being able to grieve the death of his mother who died when he was in prison.
This is not to say that his adjustment into 21st century society is not without its challenges but with the support of his strong family, friends, and organizations, such as Art for Justice and St. Vincent’s, we are hopeful he can find the strength to maintain his faith and carve out a space where he can make the contributions to society that he was denied. We can only all hope that all those who are unjustly incarcerated will receive the same support.
Terry Trudeau is a member of the Peace and Justice Ministry at St Vincent de Paul parish in Germantown. For information about the Peace and Justice Ministry, contact Trudeau at 215-990-0751. Meetings are held on the fourth Tuesday of each month at noon in the Rectory. Lunch is served. The December meeting has been changed to Dec. 19 as the fourth Tuesday is Christmas Eve. All are welcome.