BRING BILLY HOME!
BRING BILLY HOME!
Why this petition matters
Blindsided by a lying witness and faulty forensic evidence, Billy Pennington, son of a local pastor, found himself caught in the middle of a murder investigation at just 17 years old. In 2010, two masked men attempted a robbery of Richie’s Restaurant in Bond Hill, Cincinnati. Surveillance footage from the crime shows one of the men jumping onto the counter and shooting the cashier, Antonio Smith, before both perpetrators fled the scene. Despite having no actual involvement in the crime, Billy’s court-appointed attorney coerced him into pleading guilty in the interest of securing a shorter sentence, falsely insisting that the prosecution had an airtight case that would send him to prison for life. Billy was a scared kid with little knowledge of the legal system, and believed that he could trust the lawyer to have his best interests at heart. Not realizing the incompetence of the lawyer’s advice, he followed it and took the guilty plea.
Having already served 13 years, Billy has had to grow up in prison, but he doesn't have to die there. It is time to Bring Billy Home!
False guilty pleas are an issue that plagues the American criminal legal system, and communities lacking the education and resources to navigate our system are disproportionately affected. According to the Innocence Project, 18% of known exonerees were convicted because they pled guilty to a crime they didn’t commit, and around 65% of those who pled guilty are people of color. Just as with false confessions, a variety of factors drive people to enter false guilty pleas and admit to something they didn't do, many of which were present in Billy's case:
Why Billy Pled Guilty:
1. False eyewitness testimony: Only one “witness,” Benny Lyles, told police he saw Billy masking up and going into the restaurant on the night of the homicide. Billy’s lawyer told him that this eyewitness testimony gave the prosecution an unbeatable case which would lock him up for life if he entered a not-guilty plea.
Lyles later admitted to fabricating his entire testimony due to an ongoing feud he had with Billy.
2. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel: Billy’s public defender drastically misrepresented the strength of the prosecution’s case and potential for a lengthy sentence if he entered a guilty plea. His attorney convinced him he would surely die in prison if he went to trial, but would be free at 36-years-old if he pleaded guilty.
Now, serving a sentence of 18 years to life, Billy has no idea when, if ever, he will be free.
3. Association with unrelated crimes: Billy admits to having been involved in two other, unrelated robberies motivated by financial need, and was ready at the time of his trial to accept responsibility for his actions in those incidents. Since he was innocent of the murder, Billy’s lawyer requested that he be tried separately for these offenses so he could have a fair trial to prove his innocence. Despite the fact that these two robberies bore no resemblance to the Richie’s Restaurant shooting in terms of M.O., the judge never answered this request.
Billy may not be perfect, but he is not a murderer.
Not only was Billy pressured into entering a guilty plea by his attorney and his meager resources, which felt ineffective in the face of an overwhelmingly powerful carceral state, but there were other major issues with how the police investigation was conducted, as well as the prosecution’s case against him.
Why Billy Should Be Granted a New Trial:
1. Alternative suspect: Substantial evidence, including a backpack found with the same bandana used to mask one of the perpetrators in the Richie’s Restaurant surveillance video, points to a different suspect.
Police never investigated this lead, and no one else was ever convicted in this case.
2. Untested forensic evidence: There were multiple sets of DNA found on the bandana in the backpack given to the police.
This DNA was never tested, leaving a major avenue of investigation unpursued.
3. False eyewitness testimony: Lyles formally recanted his testimony in a written affidavit, in which he says that his lies have weighed on his conscience since Billy was locked up. This false testimony was one of the main reasons why police ever investigated Billy as a suspect in the first place.
There are no other witnesses who can place him at the scene of the crime.
4. Unreliable forensic evidence: Police found a shoe print from the perpetrator who jumped on the counter, and determined that it matched a pair of Billy’s shoes. These shoes, however, were Nike Air Force One sneakers – the most widely purchased shoe of the year. Furthermore, prominent forensics experts increasingly believe that shoe print analysis is junk science.
It produces unreliable results, unable to be justified by the current state of scientific knowledge.
5. Association with unrelated crimes: The judge who sentenced Billy publicly stated that he would not grant his motion to withdraw the guilty plea because of the “mountains” of evidence against him. However, the evidence he references, such as empty pizza boxes found in Billy’s room, implicates Billy only in the two less serious robberies.
There is no concrete evidence to link Billy to the murder.
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