Villanova’s Philly Justice Project Hosts Event Advocating for the Exoneration of India Spellman

Isabella Balian, Staff Writer

On Monday, April 11, the University’s chapter of the Philly Justice Project hosted an event advocating for justice for India Spellman, a person it believes to have been wrongfully convicted woman. 

“At 17 years old, India was arrested for second-degree murder, tried as an adult, convicted and sentenced to 30 years to life in prison,” incoming PJP president Ajee Robinson said. “We have been working since the Summer of 2020 to prove she is legally and factually innocent of this crime.”

The Philly Justice Project fights to end the mass incarceration of women and girls, through direct assistance, research, public policy advocacy, education and training. Students at the University founded an undergraduate chapter for the Philly Justice Project, in which they dedicate themselves to exploring casework, conducting legislative research and publicizing wrongfully convicted cases such as Spellman’s.

After Jill McCorkel, Ph.D., and the executive board’s statement, Spellman’s defense lawyer, Todd Mosser, described the legal information regarding the case. He admitted to the audience that this was one of the worst cases he had ever seen in his experience as a defense lawyer. Mosser described the reasons for Spellman’s innocence and the way she was physically abused in issuing a confession statement. 

Mosser said that Spellman’s alibi overlapped the time of the man’s death and that the suspect described at the scene differs from Spellman in body size and appearance. She was brought into a room with Detective Pitts, who physically abused her and coerced her into signing a binding confession statement. Additionally, Spellman was only 17 at the time of the accusation and was questioned without her parents present. Mosser stated that it was later revealed that Detective Pitts had a history of abusing suspects while questioning them and that Spellman was not his only victim. 

There is compelling evidence of corruption in this case, and Mosser said that he will continue to fight for Spellman’s exoneration and justice. After Mosser’s statement, McCorkel welcomed India’s mom, Morkea Spellman, to make a statement. Spellman delivered a powerful statement about her daughter’s innocence and described the difficult emotions that come with losing a child to an unfair justice system. 

“If you have family members that are innocent, don’t give up on them,” Spellman said. “I’m not going to give up on my child.”

 Additionally, she thanked the crowd and Villanova’s PJP chapter for the support and advocacy they have demonstrated throughout this process. 

After India’s mother spoke, McCorkel welcomed any other guests who wanted to speak on Spellman’s behalf and about their relationship with her. Spellman’s grandfather spoke passionately about his granddaughter and the memories they shared, and he spoke about proving her innocence. Additionally, a previous inmate who served time with Spellman spoke about her and her experience within the prison system. She advocated for Spellman’s innocence and proclaimed that she wanted to be a voice for the voiceless. 

The event ended with a question and answer session. McCorkel and Spellman’s mother emphasized the importance of public support and expressed gratitude for the amazing turnout of students. 

“Over 150 people attended the event from India’s family and friends, to Villanova students, to faculty members,” Robinson said. “The event turnout is the clearest display that India’s story does matter, and so many people see the various ways in which the system failed her. India’s story is one of many stories alike of women who are denied justice that our system so confidently assures that every individual gets. It is long overdue that we show up on behalf of women and girls who have been wrongfully convicted of a crime, and who are disproportionately underrepresented when it comes to being exonerated.” 

Spellman’s next court hearing is on June 2. Mosser, McCorkel and Spellman’s mother expressed the importance of packing the court and the way in which people’s attendance would make a difference. There are many ways to advocate and fight for Spellman’s exoneration, including following the Philly Justice Project’s Instagram to follow updates on the case. Additionally, students are encouraged to sign the petition urging District Attorney Larry Krasner to exonerate Spellman. This petition link can be found on the Philly Justice Project’s Instagram and on its website. 

The purpose of this event was to advocate for Spellman’s exoneration, gain public support and raise awareness of the corruption and unfairness in the Philadelphia Justice Department, as well as the justice system in America. The Philadelphia Justice Department has never exonerated a woman before, and there is firm hope that Spellman will be the first.