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Man exonerated after nearly 30 years of imprisonment for deadly 1994 arson

By Raymond Strickland and Adam Fox

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    PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (KYW) — Daniel Gwynn was convicted and later sentenced to death for a 1994 arson murder in West Philadelphia. But now 30 years later, the 54-year-old is now a free man.

On Wednesday, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office had the case thrown out and charges dropped against Gwynn.

Gwynn was accused of starting a fire at an abandoned building that killed Marsha Smith in the 4500 block of Chester Street.

In 1994, the prosecution in Gwynn’s case relied on unreliable witness testimony and a faulty confession made by Gwynn, according to the DA’s office.

Furthermore, the witnesses told police he started the fire. Police also told the prosecutor that the witnesses picked Gwynn out of a photo lineup, but the photo lineup was never admitted as evidence during Gwynn’s trial, the DA’s office said.

In addition to that, Gwynn’s photo was never in the lineup shown to witnesses.

Also, it turned out that the confession Gwynn gave to the police was factually inconsistent with how the fire started. The DA’s office said the prosecution also suppressed evidence about an alternate suspect who the DA believes was the person responsible for Smith’s death.

“We think it was the right result,” David Napiorski, with the DA’s office, said. “This is a pretty crazy case. Mr. Gwynn has been in prison for 30 years for something we don’t have any confidence that he did. There was a lot of evidence that was undisclosed accidentally we believe that points to a compelling alternative suspect for this crime — a man who is himself is convicted of murder and serving a life sentence.”

Gwynn was released from prison shortly after 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday with his attorneys standing by his side.

“Today is mostly for us a day of tremendous relief and sadness, a guy like him, an innocent soul spent that amount of time waiting for his execution languishing in jail,” Gwynn’s defense attorney Karl Schwartz said.

The 54-year-old chronicled his prison journey through art that can be found on a website called Art for Justice.

Anne Marie Kirk with Art for Justice befriended Gwynn more than 20 years ago and reacted to his release.

“This never should have happened and the reason it happened because too many people turned the other way to injustices that happened not just to Danny but to other individuals,” she said. “This is a wake up call to anyone who believes in the death penalty because Daniel was on death row and he’s not the only who was one death row.”

The DA’s office said the victim’s family in the case was notified of Gwynn’s release but was not opposed to his release.

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