DNA Evidence Sparks Hope For Convicted Men In 1997 Murder Case

Three men convicted of the tragic murder of 70-year-old Henrietta Nickens in 1997 are seeking new trials based on recently uncovered modern DNA evidence.

41-year-old Derrick Chappell, 43-year-old Morton Johnson and 46-year-old Samuel Grasty, who have maintained their innocence for over two decades, hope this new evidence will finally clear their names of the gruesome crime that took place inside Henrietta Nickens’ modest one-bedroom apartment in Philadelphia. 

Chappell was only 15 years old at the time, while Grasty was 20 and Johnson was 18. A fourth teenager, Richard McElwee, aged 15, played a crucial role by implicating the three and accepting a plea deal for lesser charges of third-degree murder and conspiracy to robbery.

However, recent DNA testing, as reported by The Washington Post, has raised doubts about the convictions. Attorneys for the three men revealed that none of their DNA was found on the victim, and the results even pointed to an unknown man as the likely sole perpetrator of the crime.

Surprisingly, no traces of Chappell, Grasty, Johnson or McElwee were discovered in Nickens’ apartment. Moreover, a green jacket supposedly belonging to one of them and believed to be linked to the crime did not yield any of their DNA. Instead, DNA from an unidentified individual was found at multiple locations within the crime scene, including on the victim’s bed and on a chewed straw in the jacket pocket.

The DNA profile in question had been obtained from a semen sample found onNickens, leading defense attorneys to argue that it could indicate a sexual assault as Nickens’ daughter and granddaughter said she was not romantically involved with anyone.

Announcing the new development, attorney Nilam Sanghvi of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project stated, “We now have the DNA evidence that really shows this was done by one unknown person. The defendants have been excluded from everything. The notion that [the] four… could somehow commit this crime without leaving a trace of their DNA seems absurd.”

However, the road to justice seems uncertain, as Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer has opposed the motion to vacate the convictions. In a brief, he argued that the DNA tests would not have changed the outcomes of the defendant’s trials, citing the need for compelling evidence of innocence to reconsider the verdicts.

As the legal battle unfolds, Chappell, Johnson and Grasty and their families continue to hold onto hope as family members say they missed out on their childhood and a huge part of their lives.