An inmate from Pennsylvania who served more than a decade in prison on a murder charge recently won an acquittal in his pro se representation on appeal in a fourth trial, according to a report published by the American Bar Association (ABA) Journal. After just an 81-minute deliberation, the jury acquitted defendant Hassan Bennett in the 2006 shooting death of one teenager and the wounding of another, according to reports by the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Washington Post. Bennett was just 23 years old when he was sentenced to life in prison.

 

Procedural History

 

Bennett stated he was in his home on the phone when he overheard gunshots. He ran outside of his home to investigate. The two teenagers involved were friends. According to the prosecutor’s theory of the case, Bennett had planned the crime as a result of losing $20 to one of the victims in a game of dice.

 

The first trial for Bennett’s case, which was held in 2008, ended in a mistrial due to jury tampering. In the second trial, later that same year, the jury returned a guilty verdict. Bennett won a new trial, however, based on his appellate arguments regarding ineffective assistance of counsel. A third trial, held in 2018, resulted in a hung jury. Bennett represented himself.

 

The Fourth Trial

 

In the fourth trial, which began in April of 2019, Bennett also represented himself. He argued that law enforcement detectives coerced the shooting victim who survived and a co-defendant to identify him as the assailant. The detective in question has had similar accusations against him in at least 10 other cases.

 

Bennett argued to the jury that prosecutors failed to call the detective to testify, and accused the witness of coercion. The shooting victim and the co-defendant recanted their statements during trial that identified Bennett as the shooter. Bennett also introduced evidence including phone records to support his story, as well as three corroborating witnesses.

 

Self Taught Advocate

 

The newspapers reported that Bennett studied the law in the prison library when he began to represent himself in the appeal. His cellmate would destroy his written documents if they were not properly formatted. According to the reports, Bennett is considering a legal career as a result of his appellate success. Bennett is a high school graduate. He has accepted a position with his standby attorney performing paralegal and investigative work.

 

To read more about the case, click here.

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