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Judge Vacates 11-Year-Old Lawncrest Murder Conviction

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- A Philadelphia judge has vacated the murder conviction of a man who has been behind bars for 11 years for killing his friend outside a neighborhood grocery store in the Lawncrest section.

Now, his defense team is petitioning for bail while the District Attorney's office considers its next move.

When then 17-year-old Dontia Patterson heard his friend had just been gunned down a half block away, in the middle of January, he ran out of his home in his tube socks, and stood over the body, asking "who could have done this?," according to his defense team.

He was sent to life in prison, without parole.

Now, pro-bono counsel Hayes Hunt, a partner at Cozen O'Connor, is gratified that the District Attorney's Office Post Conviction Relief unit took another look at the Patterson case.

"There was ample evidence of his innocence available to the prosecution and defense 11 years ago," said Hunt.

Like the cashier in the grocery store, who knows Patterson from the neighborhood.

There was a hung jury in Patterson's first trial, and he was convicted in a second trial. Hunt says that man would testify that the shooter was not Patterson.

"But that eyewitness, that individual, never testified at trial," Hunt said.

Hunt says that key eyewitness was not called by prosecutors, and his defense counsel did not pursue him.

"We've interviewed him and so did the DA's office. They've been very collaborative," said Hunt.

Hunt and the Pennsylvania Innocence Project are hoping that the DA's office ultimately dismisses the case.

A spokesman for the DA says they agree that he had "ineffective counsel," but the office has not yet passed judgement on the defense "claim of innocence."

Prosecutors are still reviewing whether to re-try Patterson, or dismiss the case.

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