Man Studies Law In Prison - Acts As His Own Attorney To Get Acquitted Of Murder After 13 Years Of Jail Time

Man Studies Law In Prison - Acts As His Own Attorney To Get Acquitted Of Murder After 13 Years Of Jail Time

Hassan Bennett was accused of planning his friend's death in 2006. Despite the witnesses claiming that a detective made them pin the crime on, he was convicted.

“They told me not to wear a prison uniform. I’m here in front of you in a prison uniform,” the 36-year-old told jurors during his closing argument, as he recounted to The Washington Post. “They told me not to let you see my prison arm band. I show you my prison armband. They told me not to stand in front of you representing myself.” 


Hassan Bennett spent 13 years in prison - 4,614 days, he said — when he recently stood before the jury in a Philadelphia courtroom. And in the trial that lasted for 11 days, he explained to the jurors why they could not find him guilty of second-degree murder of Devon English in 2006 - representing himself without the help of any attorneys. On Monday, after four trials, he got acquitted. 


The jury deliberated for almost 81 minutes, but Bennett - who has no law degree - was convinced of what the verdict would be. 

“I was sitting in the holding cell thinking, after five minutes, what’s taking so long?” he said. “When the jury came in and they called me up, I already knew it was a not-guilty verdict.” 


But this rare feat took some serious time and effort - 12 years of preparation from a Pennsylvania prison, studying case law in the library by day and meticulously drafting legal briefs in his cell by night, using a flickering TV as a light source. 


In September of 2006, police accused Bennett of masterminding a plot to kill 19-year-old Devon English after losing $20 to him in a dice game. 18-year-old Corey Ford, another teenager at the time, was shot in the legs and buttocks. Lamont Dade, 16, was also arrested in the shooting, to which he pleaded guilty in 2008 and was sentenced to 25 to 50 years in prison. 


Ford and Dade had both stated in their original statement that Bennett was the shooter. But later, at Bennett’s trial, they recanted, saying a homicide detective, James Pitts, coerced them into making the statements.

Bennett maintained his innocence from the start. He told police he was on the phone with a friend at home when he heard the shots ring out, then ran to the scene to see what happened. But he said his original lawyer failed to introduce the phone records or call the witnesses that he believes would have supported his alibi, saving him years in prison. 


After getting tired of losing three times, with the second trial resulting in his conviction,  Bennett decided to represent himself in 2014. 

“They told me, if you mess up here, your tail is done,” he said. “Well, I’m not gonna mess up then. There is no room for error. This is the time you rely on yourself. They call it crunchtime in basketball, when the best player in the game gets the ball with five seconds left and it’s his last shot. He wins or loses on this shot. That’s how I felt.” 


He submitted the phone records. He called the three witnesses he said corroborated his alibi. He cross-examined Ford and Dade, who again maintained Bennett was not at the scene. 

Leaving the courthouse on Monday, Bennett said the first thing he did was go home and have a home-cooked meal with his family. He’s spent his time this week re-acclimating to life on the outside, asking his 10-year-old goddaughter to teach him how to use an Android, remembering to look for cars when crossing the street. 

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