A wrongly convicted man who spent 25 years on death row was fatally shot while attending a funeral service Friday afternoon for another formerly incarcerated man — less than two years after being exonerated of his crimes.
Father-of-six, Christopher Williams was shot in the head while driving as part of a funeral procession for Tyree Little in North Philadelphia. Williams spent 25 years on death row before being exonerated of four murders and released in February 2021, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The formerly incarcerated man was shot once in the head as he stepped out of his car at Mount Peace Cemetery Friday around 2:20 p.m. He was rushed to Temple University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead less than half an hour later.
Williams, 62, had also been acquitted of two more murders — all involving the same jailhouse snitch. He and co-defendant Theophalis Wilson had been convicted of the 1989 murders on the basis of false testimony and suppressed evidence.
After his release he told the newspaper: “Never in the history of the Pennsylvania judicial system has someone been charged with six murders, acquitted of two and now exonerated of four.”
Wilson, the co-defendant, was a family friend of Williams and was also exonerated after nearly three decades in prison. Prosecutors had accused the duo of being in a gang and helping to kill three drug dealers from New York.
He expressed concern for formerly incarcerated people after the fatal shooting of his friend.
“Although we’re actually innocent, not everyone believes it,” he told the newspaper. “I spent 28 years in jail for knowing him. I have to be on guard.”
Friends and family of Williams expressed shock and sadness over his sudden death.
Since his release last year, Williams maintained relationships with people he’d met in prison and would frequently return to pay them a visit. He also consistently advocated for others he believed were wrongly convicted.
Williams’ youngest son, Christopher Hartwell, said his father touched “everybody he talked to.” His father worked as a carpenter and recently asked him to help on a job, which Hartwell said he now realizes was just an excuse to spend time together.
“Speaking on the year and eight months I had him out here, he taught me how to be a better man. He helped me be a better father myself,” he said.
Terrance Lewis, who was also recently exonerated, called Williams a trooper and “champion for justice.”
“He was still learning how to give back. His life just began, and it was taken from him.”
No arrests have been made in connection to the shooting.