Man exonerated of Brenda Whitfield’s killing reacts to mistrial for latest suspect

Nearly 29 years since Brenda Whitfield’s murder, a second suspect is cleared of the charges.
Published: May. 25, 2022 at 12:03 AM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Nearly 29 years since Brenda Whitfield’s murder, a second suspect is cleared of the charges.

Percy Phillips was charged in 2009 for the 1993 Louisville gas station incident in which Brenda Whitfield, a convenience store clerk, was shot dead for just $32 cash in the register.

Phillips was charged when new evidence exonerated Edwin Chandler, who had been convicted of the crime in 1995 and spent nine years behind bars. The new evidence included a fingerprint that was previously untested, was matched not to Chandler, but to Phillips. A witness also testified that the murderer could not have been Chandler.

On the day Chandler was exonerated, the judge said, “It is clear there has been a grave miscarriage of justice… You are a free man.”

Now, in 2022, as Phillips’ trial ended with a hung jury, a mistrial, and an announcement that he will not be retried, Chandler believes there has been another miscarriage of justice: letting Phillips go free.

Chandler said Phillips is “absolutely” guilty.

“I don’t have a problem saying it, because I know the facts and I know the truth in it,” Chandler said. “Those things have weighed on my life–the things that he did. I’ve taken the brunt for all of that… I’m fine with that. God blessed me with broad shoulders.”

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Chandler was convicted of manslaughter in the death of Whitfield in 1993. In 2009, Chandler's conviction was overturned.

Chandler also said he “took the brunt for police and all of the misjustice that he committed,” referring to former Louisville Detective Mark Handy.

In 2021, Handy pleaded guilty to committing perjury under oath while testifying at Chandler’s trial. He was variously accused of lying to Chandler about the results of his polygraph test, telling Chandler that he admitted to something only the killer would know, and threatening to arrest members of Chandler’s family unless he confessed.

“He said, ‘I’ve got officers waiting outside of your sister’s house,’” Chandler testified at a 2021 hearing, at which other wrongly convicted men also testified against Handy.

Yet throughout the decades since Whitfield’s murder, Chandler said he has made a certain kind of peace with its affect on his life.

“I mean, it’s horrible,” Chandler said. “But I don’t have the authority or the power to do anything about it. The feelings that I have, honestly, any raw feelings that I have for this? They diminished a long time ago. This has almost been 30 years.”

In 2012, Chandler sued the Louisville Metro Government and won $8.5 million.

“I don’t think anyone who understands this thinks you can substitute one for the other,” Chandler said at the time, “but this is all that’s left for me to get.”

Last year, using some of those funds and his unique experience, Chandler began The Chandler Project, a nonprofit re-entry program specifically for exonerated people. He works one-on-one with his clients.

“It means so much more because they understand who I am and I understand who they are,” Chandler said. “We’ve been through kind of like the same thing.”

Chandler said he won’t let the news of Phillips’ release change his trajectory.

“I’m going to continue on with my workday, and I’m going to continue on tomorrow when I get up too,” Chandler said.

Meanwhile, the family of Brenda Whitfield remains in limbo, unsure if her killer will ever be brought to justice.

“I just pray that they can find a way to move on like I have,” Chandler said.

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