Witness at 2015 Philadelphia murder trial claims he got $20,000 reward to lie on stand

by Mensah M. Dean Updated Feb 13, 2020

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is taking a second look at a 2015 murder conviction based on new claims that a now-fired homicide detective induced a key trial witness to provide false testimony in exchange for a $20,000 city reward, a source close to the case said.

Joshua Raheem holding his daughter
In a 2009 family photo, Joshua Raheem holds his daughter Zhydia. Serving a life sentence after he was convicted of murder in 2015, Raheem is seeking a new trial.

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is taking a second look at a 2015 murder conviction based on new claims that a now-fired homicide detective induced a key trial witness to provide false testimony in exchange for a $20,000 city reward, a source close to the case said.

Joshua Raheem, 27, who was sentenced to life without parole plus two 20-to-40-year consecutive terms for a 2013 shooting that killed a man and injured two people, is seeking a new trial. He denies any role in the killing and says a witness, Kenneth Perry, identified him as the gunman out of fear after a relative of the dead man shot at Perry and because the detective, Philip Nordo, repeatedly promised the witness reward money if his testimony led to Raheem’s conviction.

Perry, 28, a high school dropout related to Raheem through marriage, received the reward money two months after the conviction, according to confidential city records obtained by The Inquirer.

Nordo, 53, was fired in 2017 after 20 years on the police force. He has been jailed since his February 2019 arrest, accused of grooming and sexually assaulting male witnesses during criminal investigations, then intimidating them to keep them silent. His charges include multiple counts of rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, and fraudulently steering reward money to witnesses. His attorney, Michael T. van der Veen, did not return a call seeking comment.

Raheem has always maintained his innocence — and last month Perry signed a sworn statement asserting that his testimony was a lie induced largely by Nordo.

Raheem’s current lawyer says neither Nordo’s alleged financial inducement nor the threatening gunshot were disclosed before the trial, violating the “Brady rule” that requires prosecutors to share information favorable to the defense in a criminal case.

“Mr. Perry failed to previously disclose this information out of fear of retribution and criminal charges for accepting the money for his falsified statement, however, with Detective Nordo’s arrest, Mr. Perry has changed his position,” Todd Mosser, Raheem’s lawyer, wrote last week in an amended petition seeking a new trial. Mosser’s filing names another gunman alleged by Perry to have committed the three shootings.

Philip Nordo Headshot
Philip Nordo
Philadelphia Police Department

The District Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit has agreed to investigate Raheem’s allegations, according to a source with knowledge of the case who was not authorized to speak publicly about it. Both Mosser and Jane Roh, the DA’s spokesperson, declined to discuss the case. Lawyers on both sides last week asked a judge to postpone a scheduled hearing on Raheem’s appeal petition but did not say why.

The unit, which investigates convicted offenders’ claims of innocence, has exonerated 12 people imprisoned for murder since Larry Krasner took office as district attorney in 2018. Three of those cases involved Nordo: Sherman McCoy, an intellectually disabled man who spent 5½ years in prison; James Frazier, whose arrest and conviction followed his rejection of the detective’s alleged sexual advances; and Jamaal Simmons, convicted largely based on testimony of a witness who later claimed to have been coerced by the detective.

Raheem, a West Philadelphia father of four, was convicted in the June 6, 2013, killing of John Carrington, 21, and the wounding of Christopher Haskett, 22, and a 15-year-old boy, all of whom who were shot while on the front porch of a West Philadelphia house.

Raheem was arrested six months later; prosecutors contended he shot the victims in retaliation for having been shot in the right hand and shoulder by one of their friends six weeks before the killing.

As a result of his being shot, Raheem’s right ring finger had been amputated, and his arm was in a cast when the three men were shot. That made it impossible for him to hold a gun, let alone fire it multiple times at the three victims, he claims. The murder weapon was never found.

“You got a cast to the tip of your finger up near your shoulder, and you’re under a lot of medication. How could you shoot a gun like that?” Raheem’s sister Sahara Nesbitt, 36, said in an interview this week. She noted that Raheem had surgery two days before the three men were shot.

Perry, who surveillance video showed had entered a nearby store when the shooting happened, was not questioned by police until six months later. He gave written and recorded statements implicating Raheem, but gave conflicting testimony at Raheem’s 2015 trial.

In a sworn statement last month, Perry, who is in jail awaiting trial on drug charges, recanted his testimony implicating Raheem and described Nordo’s promise of reward. “Detective Nordo told me this reward was to be kept low-key,” his statement said.

Mike Dunn, a spokesperson for Mayor Jim Kenney, declined to discuss the case but said that “if a witness were to recant after a conviction for which they received a reward, the city could explore legal means to recover the funds.”

Joshua Raheem with his mother
A 2012 family photo shows Joshua Raheem with his mother, Lorraine Nesbitt. Raheem was convicted of murder in 2015 and is serving a life sentence. His mother died on Christmas 2019.

Since Raheem’s imprisonment, his sister said, he has missed spending time with his four children, now between 6 and 11 years old, and missed the funerals of both grandmothers and his mother, Lorraine Nesbitt, who died on Christmas 2019 from brain cancer.

Still, Nesbitt said, Perry is a family member who she believes testified out of fear for his life and fear of Nordo. “They should give him a fair trial,” she said of Raheem.

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