This article was originally published Aug. 4, 2011.
A Philadelphia judge has ordered a new trial for a man convicted of murder nearly 19 years ago - a conviction based partly on the testimony of an 11-year-old boy who has since recanted.
Common Pleas Court Judge Lisa M . Rau issued her order vacating the conviction of Jose Medina Jr. on Tuesday and published a scathing 217-page opinion in which she concludes that the police coerced false testimony from the boy.
"The improper conduct that was committed in this case breeds contempt for our justice system and compromises our ability to rely on the verdict as being a just outcome," Rau wrote.
Tasha Jamerson, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Seth Williams, declined to comment Wednesday.
A jury found Medina guilty of murder in November 1992 in the stabbing death of William Bogan on Oct. 18, 1991, in the Fairhill section. He was sentenced to life in prison after the jury deadlocked on whether to impose the death penalty.
Judges have ordered new trials for Medina several times on various legal grounds, but those orders were reversed by higher courts. This is the first order based on the recanting of testimony.
Two young brothers, Hector and Michael Toro, were the only witnesses linking Medina to Bogan that night. They testified to seeing a drunken Medina enter a Chinese takeout, brandish a "Rambo knife," and declare: "Today I'm going to kill somebody with this knife. " Michael Toro testified that he saw the stabbing.
"Without the children's testimony, there was no other evidence that would have led to Jose Medina's conviction: no knife, no blood on his white clothing, no stolen wallet, no motive and no prior relationship," Rau wrote.
Medina, who was about 19 at the time, was living in Reading and was visiting Philadelphia to attend a birthday party for a friend's daughter. He had no previous criminal convictions.
At trial, as Rau points out, both boys gave "reluctant and contradictory testimony. "
Michael Toro, who was 11 on the night of the murder, first testified that he saw the stabbing, then testified that his brother saw it. At times, he testified that they both saw the stabbing. Hector Toro consistently testified that he did not see the stabbing.
Medina later filed appeals that said his lawyer failed to have the boys examined to see if they were competent witnesses. Rau wrote that such examinations are required by state law for child witnesses and that the judge in the trial was wrong in not ordering them.
Both brothers later recanted, but Michael Toro was ruled not competent to give testimony for this latest appeal.
Bogan was the brother of a Philadelphia police officer, and detectives who knew the officer subsequently visited Hector and Michael Toro and obtained retractions of the recantations, Rau wrote. The judge rejected the police-obtained documents.
Hector Toro, who was 10 the night of the stabbing, said the first time he saw Medina was at the murder trial. He said his brother didn't see anything on the night of the slaying, either.
In an affidavit, Hector Toro said a detective had coerced him to give false testimony: "It felt like I was being interrogated for hours. I was offered something to eat and drink, then the detective passed me a paper he was writing on and told me to sign it so I can go home."
During a hearing last year before Rau, Hector Toro said he was unable to read at the time.
Rau wrote that the District Attorney's Office provided no specific rebuttal except to say that prosecutors believed the testimony that the children gave during the trial.