Man Freed After 21 Years in Prison for Murder After Star Witness Steps Forward as Real Killer

John Miller (center) celebrates his freedom with his legal team after spending 21 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
John Miller (center) celebrates his freedom with his legal team after spending 21 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Pepper Hamilton LLP

A Pennsylvania man who spent more than two decades in prison for a murder he did not commit has walked free after a star witness in the case confessed to being behind the killing, officials said. 

Anthony Mullen was working as a parking lot attendant when he was fatally shot during an attempted robbery outside of Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station in October 1996.

It wasn’t long until authorities announced they had arrested the man responsible and identified the shooter as John Miller. 

Miller’s childhood friend, David Williams, identified him as the man responsible for Mullen’s death, and an acquaintance said he saw Miller at one point holding a gun, said Pepper Hamilton LLP, a law firm representing Miller. 

But Williams’ claims were short-lived, as he recanted his testimony during Miller’s trial and said he had lied.

“Despite Williams’ claim and the fact that no physical evidence linking Miller to the crime was found, Miller was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison,” Pepper Hamilton said. 

Miller would go on to spend decades trying to prove his innocence.

During that time, Williams wrote to Miller’s mother and in his letter, he confessed to shooting Mullen himself. 

“I can’t live with this on my conscience,” Williams wrote in a December 2002 letter, according to court records obtained by CNN. “Your son had no knowledge of this crime. He wasn’t even there. I lied on him.” 

Williams allegedly told police Miller confessed to him he killed Mullen in exchange for leniency in another case. It was not immediately clear if Williams will be charged with Mullen’s murder. Attempts to locate Williams for comment were not successful. 

Williams appeared to confess to the crime as many times as Miller tried to be absolved of it. 

Between 1998 and 2011, Miller filed 10 appeals, many on his own behalf. All were denied. 

He also contacted the Pennsylvania Innocence Project (PAIP) to help him fight for his freedom. 

The organization accepted his case in 2011, and with Pepper Hamilton, spent more than 3,000 hours trying to secure Miller’s release.

Eventually the team discovered “exculpatory evidence that had not previously been disclosed to Miller,” authorities said.

“Their discovery was pivotal in contributing to Miller’s release today, eight years after the legal team began its work,” Pepper Hamilton said. 

A federal judge on July 1 ordered the release of Miller, now 44, subject to the district attorney’s decision whether to pursue a new trial. Prosecutors declined to retry Miller, saying there was insufficient evidence.

On Wednesday, Miller walked out of the State Correctional institution in Frackville. He had spent 21 years in prison. 

“I’m very happy and excited that after 21 years I’m finally being heard and that my innocence has reached the surface,” Miller said. “I’m going home to my family. I’m overwhelmed, excited, and happy. I have a good team who helped me through this. Without them, I don’t know what would have happened or where I would have been.”

After his release, Miller and his family planned to go with his attorneys for a steak dinner, “Miller’s request for his first dinner outside of prison … to celebrate his long, awaited freedom,” Pepper Hamilton said.

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