A Lumberton man convicted shortly of a fatal stabbing after the Philadelphia Eagles victorious Super Bowl in 2018 has won a new trial because a prosecutor repeatedly called him a liar in court, an appeals court ruled Thursday.
And, the trial judge bungled his instructions to the jury, an error that also badly damaged the case.
A Burlington County jury in early 2019 convicted Supreme Life, 60, of manslaughter in the death of Moriah Walker, 26, of Brooklyn, NY, and the attempted murder of Raheem Williams, of Queens, NY A judge trial Life, also known as Charles Hoskins, to 20 years in prison.
Both victims were stabbed during an altercation with Life and his son, Antoine Ketler, shortly after the Eagles won the Super Bowl in February 2018 and revelers were outside celebrating. Ketler is a Dallas Cowboys fan; the victims rooted for the Eagles.
Life and Ketler went on trial together on murder and related charges. Life took the stand and claimed self defense, saying he came to his son’s aid after grabbing a knife he used for work and did not intend to stab either man – but they came at him and he was armed. The jury acquitted Ketler.
What actually occurred during the fighting was disputed at trial, and that was not the focus of the appeal, rather how an assistant prosecutor portrayed Life.
Life admitted to lying to police in his initial statements, and an assistant prosecutor posed on it, repeatedly calling Life a liar, leading off his closing arguments by saying he “lied his rear end off.”
The prosecutor then went way over the line, beyond pointing out discrepancies and attacking credibility, by labeling Life a liar all the time, and that his testimony was, “more lies told by an admitted liar,” the decision says.
At another point, the prosecutor said it was his personal opinion that Life, “is definitely guilty of the murder of Moriah Walker.”
The appeals court said Life’s lies were fair game at trial, in cross examination and during the prosecutor’s closing summary. “It is, however, improper for a prosecutor to use derogatory epithets to describe a defendant,” the decision says.
The constant labeling of Life as a liar tipped the scale of justice against him, and the prosecutor’s attacks went “unabated” by his defense lawyer, and that requires a reversal of Life’s convictions, the decision says.
Moreover, there were other missteps by the judge in his instructions to the jury, specifically by omitting certain instructions on how they could interpret self defense as it relates to manslaughter.
“The combination of errors in this case, together with the prosecutor’s improper summation, requiring reversal of the defendant’s convictions,” the decision says.
The decision did not name the judge or prosecutor, but prior reports identified them as Judge Charles Delehey and Burlington County Assistant Prosecutor Bob Van Gilst.
“We are reviewing the decision,” a spokesperson for the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office said Thursday.
Before the decision, Life was serving time in the state prison system with a parole date in February 2035.
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Kevin Shea may be reached at [email protected].