LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Tuesday was a day that brought justice for a Louisville man, but Jefferson Circuit Judge Fred Cowan also called it an incredibly sad day for the legal system. 16-years after a convenience store worker was shot to death during a robbery, the man who was convicted and served almost a decade behind bars has been cleared of the crime.
Edwin Chandler was originally convicted of second degree manslaughter in the 1993 shooting. Tuesday, prosecutors told WAVE 3 that a fingerprint match has the real killer behind bars.
After nine years behind bars and five years of probation, Chandler shed tears of joy in a 9th floor courtroom at the Jefferson County Judicial Center because finally he is a free man. In announcing his approval to vacate Chandler's conviction, Judge Cowan said, "It seems absolutely clear there has been a grave miscarriage of justice."
In 1995, Chandler was on trial for the murder of 25-year-old Brenda Whitfield, a clerk working at the Chevron Food Mart at Newburg Road and Goldsmith Lane. On September 28, 1993, Whitfield was shot and killed by a gunman who was seen in surveillance video. On the stand during his trial, Chandler pled with jurors that police had the wrong man. He told jurors what he said to the original investigator, "I said, I'm telling you the truth, I didn't do it and he said I don't believe you, I think you're lying."
The jury didn't believe Chandler. He was convicted of manslaughter.
Chandler said it wasn't until 2004 when attorney Margarite Thomas and The Innocence Project started listening and investigating the case. "I couldn't tell you how you know when you look for somebody to listen to you and somebody needs somebody, everybody needs somebody and they were that somebody for me," Chandler said of Thomas and the Innocence Project.
With the request to reopen the case, Sgt. Denny Butler of the Louisville Metro Police discovered a previously unmatched fingerprint that was lifted from a Colt .45 beer bottle. That bottle had been left on the counter by the shooter. During Tuesdays hearing, Butler told Judge Cowan the fingerprint did not match Chandler but was a match to another man, Percy Phillips.
Phillips is the same man who made national news recently after he was tased by a Jefferson County sheriffs deputy during an outburst in court on unrelated charges. Butler also found out another eyewitness from the 1993 scene, John Gray, also identified Percy Phillips as the shooter. Gray said he gave a Jefferson County Police officer all of his information, but was never contacted during the investigation.
"How do you make this right?" Chandler asked. "I don't know, really I don't know if I could answer that."
Remarkably, Chandler is not pointing fingers, but said he just wants to move on with his fiance and his family and celebrate his 1-year-old's birthday.
"It means more than words," said Stacey Patterson, Chandlers fiance. "I can't gather the words to say it because he's getting a new life and he's long overdue."
"It's just one of those days you just dream of and it's actually here so it's a very joyful occasion," added Edward Elam, Chandlers brother.
Percy Phillips was indicted Tuesday morning in Whitfield's death. Tuesday afternoon, Commonwealth Attorney Dave Stengel said he has talked with Whitfield's family. Stengel said they are confused about the events, but at the same time, they are happy that the right man is now in custody.