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New Trial Ordered for Man Convicted of Murder

January 15, 1992

MEDIA, Pa. (AP) _ A new trial has been ordered for Terence McCracken Jr., a man convicted of murder in 1983 but released on bond in 1987 after newspaper articles raised doubts about his guilt.

Delaware County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert A. Wright issued the order last Friday and it was made public Tuesday.

McCracken was convicted of shooting to death 71-year-old David Johnston in a Collingdale delicatessen in March 1983. But the prosecution’s star witness has recanted his testimony and another man has confessed to the killing.

A series of articles in 1986 in The Philadelphia Inquirer quoted family, friends and a mailman who said McCracken was with them about the time of the murder. McCracken insisted his arrest was a case of mistaken identity.

Two police officers involved in the case have said he is innocent and the original prosecutor expressed doubts about McCracken’s guilt.

Inquirer reporter John Woestendiek was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for the series.

Delaware County District Attorney William H. Ryan Jr. said Tuesday he won’t drop the case. ″Let me just say I don’t agree with the court’s ruling and let it go at that,″ he told the Inquirer.

Judge Wright, who has been reviewing the case for a year, said the prosecution’s star witness, Michael Aldridge, was ″not telling the truth″ when he said he saw McCracken enter the deli just before the shooting.

Aldridge testified in 1990 that he lied because Delaware County detectives threatened to prosecute him for murder unless he implicated McCracken. Jurors said Aldridge’s testimony was crucial to the conviction.

The judge also cited testimony under oath from McCracken’s attorney, John McDougall, that McCracken’s alleged co-conspirator, John Robert Turcotte, admitted shooting the victim.

″The recanting testimony with the testimony of John G. McDougall, Esquire, is of such a nature that considered along with other evidence presented at trial will likely result in a different verdict if a new trial is granted,″ the judge said in his ruling.

Turcotte was never tried for murder though he was carrying the pistol used in the killing when he was arrested for robbery a few days later. He now lives in Florida.

McCracken and Turcotte are similar in appearance and McCracken was wearing clothes similar to those the killer was described as wearing.

Ironically, McCracken, free on bond for four years, was jailed Monday on a traffic charge and was still in the county prison Tuesday night. Police had found a 1982 warrant on charges of underage drinking.

″It’s the big stuff that matters today,″ McCracken told the Inquirer in by phone from prison Wednesday. ″I’ll be out tomorrow.″

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