Philadelphia Justice Project: India Spellman Exonerated


Courtesy of @phillyjusticeproject on Instagram

Villanova’s undergraduate chapter of the Philly Justice Project.

Isabella Balian, Staff Writer

History was made last week when India Spellman became the first woman, and first Black woman, to be exonerated from prison in Philadelphia history. On February 9th of last week, Spellman’s wrongful conviction was overturned, bringing a moment of pure relief and justice to Spellman, her family and the greater Philadelphia community. 

At only 17 years old, Spellman was wrongfully convicted of second-degree murder, tried as an adult, convicted and sentenced to 30 years life in prison. She was coerced, beaten by police, her alibis were forgotten and she was unfairly tried at only 17 years old. 

“India is an innocent woman who was wrongfully accused and ultimately convicted of  crimes that she did not commit,” PJP Director and Villanova professor Dr. Jill McCorkel said. “After 13 years of fighting and maintaining her innocence and never giving up hope, [Spellman] was finally, finally able to take back a measure of justice for herself and her family. And she was able to do so as the world watched.”

After years of protest, petitioning and fighting for justice, Spellman was finally released by Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner.

 “After multiple additional hearings and filings by my office, a judge today finally granted Ms. Spellman the relief she is due and granted our motion to exonerate her completely,” Krasner said. “ Ms. Spellman’s release from state custody is overdue. I extend my deepest condolences to the family of George Greaves.” 

Even the family members of the victim, George Greaves, spoke out at the trial, expressing the injustices of Spellman’s conviction and were saddened to see her become another victim of our unjust system. 

Standing behind Spellman and her moment of true justice, were the members of the Philadelphia Justice Project. The Philadelphia Justice Project fights to end the mass incarceration of women and girls through direct assistance, research, public policy advocacy, education and training. Members of this group have been advocating for Spellman’s release on and off campus to spread awareness of her case and the overall injustices within Philadelphia’s criminal justice system. 

“[Villanova’s Philadelphia Justice Project] really prioritized getting not only her name out in the public, but also highlighting the major issues surrounding her wrongful imprisonment,” student president of PJP Ajee Robinson said. “We wanted people to clearly see that this was a 17-year-old young girl who had absolutely nothing to do with these crimes yet has been imprisoned for over a decade for them.”

Members of the Philadelphia Justice Project attended Spellman’s hearing at 9 a.m. on February 9th, and were overjoyed to see the true freedom that Spellman would finally be granted. 

“It was so rewarding, especially to see all of her loved ones there as [Spellman] was [freed],” PJP member Zoe Kim said. “Everyone was so excited for her and relieved that India would finally be free after so many years of being wrongfully convicted. Leaving the courtroom after she was exonerated was one of the best feelings. For me and so many others in PJP, it was an experience that has shaped our view of the justice and prison systems in America.”

Krasner’s statement and action to release Spellman represents a monumental moment in history in accordance with gender and racial disparities. 

“I’m also hoping that this case will showcase how racism and sexism contribute to wrongful convictions in ways that are particularly pernicious to women of color,” McCorkel said. “What happened to [Spellman] is an example of police and prosecutorial violence against Black women. Police and prosecutors had good reason to believe that [Spellman] was innocent at the time of these crimes but they threw her life away anyway. That is unconscionable. It is also unconscionable that they cared so little about public safety and about the justice owed to the victim, Mr. Greaves, and his family that they did.”

When examining Spellman’s case, the intersection of race and gender cannot be ignored, as racial inequities within the criminal justice system still prevail. PJP members recognize the way in which gender and race are important factors in convictions, and especially wrongful convictions. 

“Women, especially Black women, are continually forgotten about, silenced, and disregarded when it comes to correcting injustice,” Robinson said. “On a more personal level, as a Black woman I have always understood the power and importance of fighting for people who look like me. Ultimately, there is nothing that separates me from [Spellman]. Early on, I faced the harsh reality that, as a Black woman in America, I could have very well been the one in [Spellman’s] situation. So, when you realize your proximity to something as troubling as [Spellman’s] case, you really reflect on how you would feel if no one cared about your innocence or fought to maintain it. [Spellman’s] exoneration means so much for women, Black women, Black women from Philadelphia, and the list goes on. But ultimately, her exoneration proves that their voices, their stories, their freedom, their happiness, and their lives matter—and I am so honored that, as a Black woman, I got to be a small piece in affirming that.”