The Atlantic

The Watchdog Inside the DA's Office

In Philadelphia and other cities, prosecutors have formed “conviction review units”—special teams that reinvestigate cases they may have gotten wrong.
Source: Matt Slocum / AP

PHILADELPHIA—In the 24 years former inmate Shaurn Thomas spent trying to convince others of his innocence, he maintained that “the justice system was going to prevail sooner or later, and that somebody would hear my cries.” Letters he’d written claiming he wasn’t involved in a 1990 murder convinced local lawyers to offer their help, but Thomas wouldn’t have gone free without the assistance of the Philadelphia district attorney’s office—the same one that put him behind bars.

For eight years, his two-person legal team had gained little traction arguing that on the day of the murder, Thomas, then 16, was at a youth detention center for an unrelated matter. “Basically, the courts did not listen to us,” said one of the two lawyers, Jim Figorski of the firm Dechert LLP. The tipping point came when

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