Liberians rally in Philadelphia for Vickson Korlewala and Lorpu Korlewala
In the early hours of April 23, 2014, more than 5 days after a judge lowered the bail and ordered them released on bail,
Vickson Korlewala and Lorpu Korlewala were released from prison in
Philadelphia. They will be free while they wait for their trial, which will be held together for both of them. They appeared at Philadelphia Justice Center in Room 406 on May 2nd, 2014; and were ordered to go for a police lineup on May 15 (Lorpu) and May 19 (Vickson). Vickson charges click here. Lorpu charges click here.
The Witness of Innocence
Project has determined that 75% of persons exonerated by DNA evidence were convicted
because of misidentification. The Liberian community protested the police lineup, and through court intervention, the prosecutor's demand for police lineup was denied because
1) Vickson's picture was widely disseminated by police when he was arrested
2) mainstream media has reported him and his face as the man who shook down the old ladies.
3) the victims were clearly already been intimidated by the police into identifying Vickson
4) the victims have undoubtedly watched the mainstream video coverage and read the papers.
Before the lineup was scheduled, the Korlewalas' lawyers agreed to drop the request for lineups, and we were back in court on Friday, May 23rd, 2014, and this was not disputed. Between the May xx court date and the July 7 court date, the Korlewalas' green van was returned to them. Which had been impounded as evidence. So the Korlewalas and more than 50 supporters showed up in court on July 7 with the expectation that the charges would be dropped in the pre-trial hearing.
Korlewalas ordered released on April 17; still in prison on Easter, on April 20. SJ Dodgson MJoTA v8n1 p0420
Liberians and friends have been
rallying for the release of the Korlewalas since their detention on
April 2nd. At the April 4th arraignment, they were given bail of
$250,000 since they had no prior arrests in their 30 years in
Councilmember the Hon Jannie Blackwell met with family members and the
police commissioner on April 6, and was told that not only did the Philadelphia police have overwhelming evidence that the Korlewalas stole all savings of an 80 year-old woman, but that they had done it before, and so the bail was raised to
$1 million. A second old lady, who is 90, had identified them as the couple
who had driven her to a bank to make her withdraw her life savings.
next hearing was April 14, and about 70 of us showed up and gave a
demonstration of support outside the Philadelphia Justice Center.
Picture above, and scroll down for more.
Nothing happened in
court on April 14, the prosecutor Mr McCool did not show up, and when
found, said he was not prepared to argue before a judge about lowering
the bail. And that another hearing was scheduled for the next day,
Tuesday April 15, tax day, at 10.30am.
We had about 15
supporters, the judge spent most of her time ruling by video
conferencing that accused all over New Jersey needed to be brought to
Philadelphia for trial. She did rule that the Korlewalas needed to be
tried together, as requested by Mr Muncie, their defense attorney.
The next day, Wednesday, I was in Philadelphia City Hall to watch the mayor sign an executive order limiting the power of the federal agency for immigration and naturalization. When I arrived in the beautiful old hall, I headed over to the side with other media types, and put on my t-shirt, "Free the Korlewalas".
A young man asked me what that was about, he could see clearly that the 2 images on the t-shirt were not of the same man, and the next afternoon, Holy Thursday, April 17, 2014, Liberians gatered again at the Philadelphia Justice Center holding copies of Metro News in which the story of the Korlewalas was published. Thank you Sam! Good independent mass media in which reporters are not muzzled, we need more, not less.
On Thursday, a hearing had been scheduled for 3.30pm, but when the courtroom had been filled with Liberians wearing "Release the Korlewalas" t-shirts by 3.15pm, the judge started. Mr McCool showed up, agreed to reduce the bail to $125,000 per charge per person, for a total bail of $500,000 which, for reasons I will never understand, means the family had to find $50,000 to get the release of the Korlewalas.
Mr McCool also said that the victims were both elderly and would be stressed by a grand jury. so the Judge ruled no grand jury! Which is wonderful. And instead, the Korlewalas will come before him in May for a preliminary hearing, in whic evidence will be presented and the Judge will decide whether the Korlewalas will continue to trial.
So that was it. We left the courtroom believing that the Korlewalas would be released that night and would be home for Easter.
No, they are still in prison. Family members brought the money to the bail office. First they were told the money is in the wrong form; the check the bail office had issued after returning money to the family when they did not have enough: they would not take that check. So when the family returned with the money in the "right" form, courtesy of an all-night bank, theyw ere told the orders were not in the system yet, to come back after 10pm. After 10pm, the bail was still not at $500,000, and the family was told they needed a judge to make an emergency order. Then they were told to come back on Monday or Tuesday.
And so on Easter Sunday, 3 days after the money had been raised from loans and gifts, 3 days after the prosecutor, judge agreed to lower the bail, the Korlewalas remain in prison.
I wonder how many ways a hard-working immigrant couple
can be humiliated in Philadelphia by police and by the judicial system.
And by CBS news, who happily ran the video of Vickson being arrested,
even though anyone with any sort of eyesight can see clearly that
Vickson is not the man in the bank surveillance video.
Liberians in Pennsylvania and New Jersey come together to support Vickson Korlewala and Lorpu Korlewala. SJ Dodgson MJoTA 2014 v8n1 p0414Hard for me to explain to anyone who does not love Philadelphia how beautiful Philadelphia is when its leaves and flowers and heart unfurl after closing against the snows and ice and winds of winter. Spring is now in full blast, and Christians are celebrating Holy Week in the few days remaining before Easter.Hard for me to explain to anyone who is not African what being African means. Brotherhood, sisterhood, having your back, totally and completely believing that a brother, a sister in trouble must be lifted up. Those clowns who pretend to represent God and African countries while robbing their brothers and sisters of their futures: they are not African. You know who they are. They have African faces but no souls.Lorpu and Vickson have African faces and African souls, and have been caught up in a police operation that would not be out of place in African countries lacking security. And Liberians are with them every step of the way, protesting their innocence, demanding their release, raising money for bail and for legal costs.
The general of the army of 70 Liberians that descended on Philadelphia Justice Courts today, April 14 2014, is their second child, their second daughter Korto. She is a manager at the Veterans Administration and she makes sure the VA has everything it needs, a job she did during her 4 years in the United States Army, which she also did during her deployment to Afghanistan. Korto arranged t-shirts for everyone; the t-shirts have 2 pictures side-by-side, one is the picture of the man in the bank surveillance video who is accused of scamming an old lady out of her life savings of $8,000; the other is a picture of her father. Arresting Philadelphia police and the Philadelphia District Attorney's office claim they are the same man. They are not.
On Friday, 30 Liberians gathered at Korto's house to find out how Vickson and Lorpu are surviving behind bars. We are all concerned that Vickson has diabetes, and a transplanted kidney, but so far we are not hearing bad news about his health. He had been scheduled to fly to Liberia on April 9 for his renewable energy project. Philadelphia policemen thinking all black men look alike has put that on hold for the time being, and denied so many in West Africa of the opportunity for accessible energy, for accessible light.
Yesterday, Palm Sunday, 50 Liberians gathered at 55th and Market St at the hair salon of Lorpu Kortewala. The upper floor is about 20 feet from the elevated train line, and when we stood in front of the shop, we saw the trains whizzing by. On the opposite side of the street is the large property belonging to the Salvation Army. I took the background picture on this page when I was standing directly in front of the Salvation Army gates, looking east towards Center City Philadelphia. The golden city laid out east to west.
I took photographs on Friday, Sunday and today. Below, the 2 daughters of Lorpu and Vickson, and pictures from outside the Philadelphia Justice Center on April 14, 2014. Above, pictures from Friday, Saturday and Sunday ralles to Release the Kortewalas.
The background photo on the news portal page I took at the house Korto shares with her husband and child; the background photo on the page about Vickson Kortewala I took at the hair salon of Lorpu Kortewala click here.
The photo I wanted, and was not permitted to take - I was told if I took a photograph inside the courts I could be imprisoned for 6 months for contempt, gulp - was when Kortu came down the corridor towards the court room flanked by 40 others, all wearing their magnificent t-shirts. After that, the court did not know what to do with us. All 70 of us respectfully stood outside the courtroom on the 6th floor of the Philadelphia Justice Center and held hands and were led in prayer by Rev Jalloh. After that some of us went into the court room, and our presence was recognized by the judge recognized that we were all character witnesses for the Kortewalas. Indeed.
What we learned today is that although the Kortewalas have been arraigned, and imprisoned, they have not yet been indicted. We will be back in court on April 15, and April 17, and we ask for all who can to join us to support these good people, so wrongly accused.
A grand jury will convene on May 5 to see if the Kortewalas will be made to go on trial. We hope and pray not, but meanwhile, they are missing daffodils and cherry blossoms and magnolias and Easter. And that is so upsetting to their siblings, 4 children, and their 8 grandchildren, and to us all.