When police knocked on Curtis Crosland’s door to take him away for questioning, he told his wife and children that he’d be back soon.
He was working as an assistant to a physical therapist and was preparing to attend college so he too could become a physical therapist.
“I remember telling my wife and son ‘I’ll be back,’ because I didn’t do anything. I never came back. I never knew what I did, until they told me what I was accused of. It’s like a kidnap,” Crosland told CNN.
The Philadelphia dad was convicted of murder and has spent the last three decades trying to clear his name.
Now after more than 30 years behind bars that conviction has been overturned.
“I feel exceedingly joyful, happy, that finally, you know … after 30 or more years, after constantly knocking on the door for somebody to please hear me, that day finally came,” the now 60-year-old said.
In 1991 Crosland was wrongfully convicted of second-degree murder, robbery, and possessing an instrument of crime in the 1984 killing of a Philadelphia store owner.
Grocery and deli store owner Il Man “Tony” Heo was killed by a masked shooter minutes before he was due to close his store for the night.
Heo’s son Song Il “Charles” Heo said: “He was a really fun guy, humorous, positive, smiling, joking person,” adding that he was very well liked in the community and liked to help people.
Three years after his death Crosland became a suspect, according to his lawyer, Claudia Flores.
Crosland’s conviction was overturned in June with help from the Philadelphia Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) which found that Crosland’s conviction was based on testimonies from two witnesses who later recanted their statements, as per a news release from CIU.
The CIU’s review of the case also found that Philadelphia’s police department and district attorney’s office had the evidence that proved his innocence on file the whole time.
The 60-year-old was finally freed and was able to return to his five children, fiancée, and 32 grandchildren.
“I feel exceedingly joyful, happy, that finally, you know … after 30 or more years, after constantly knocking on the door for somebody to please hear me, that day finally came,” he told CNN.
“It’s a great feeling to still be dad, to be wanted and desired, and open arms to receive you, that’s been the greatest part of being exonerated, that I come home to a loving family that wants and needs me,” he added.
Crosland’s is the 22nd exoneration in which the CIU has been involved, according to the news release.
Systemic racism at every step
Heo said he is happy that Crosland has finally been exonerated in his father’s killing. “I firmly believe Crosland should have been a free man,” he said.
Crosland’s lawyer Claudia Flores said: “Most people serving life in prison without parole in Pennsylvania are Black men. Probably most of these police officers involved are white.
“It’s a system saturated with systemic racism at every step. From the way crimes are investigated, to jury selection, to the fact that most prosecutors and judges are white,” she said.
Despite the evidence there on file for decades, this man’s life was taken away from him for 30 years; it’s shocking and saddening to think he has spent his life this way, unnecessarily.
I hope lessons are learned and the fight continues to free innocent people and highlight the injustices of their treatment. Please share.