This is a report on the deliberations and outcome of the Philadelphia Event Review Team’s (PERT’s) sentinel event review (SER) of the conviction and subsequent exoneration of George Cortez, in order to identify the causes of this miscarriage of justice and recommend ways to prevent such errors from recurring.
The review analyzed the events in the case, from arrest through appeal and exoneration. The goal of the analysis was not to target blame for the error on any individual or agency, but rather to craft reform measures that will correct flawed decisions and procedures that caused an innocent person to be convicted. The current report presents a case timeline, an outline of the factors that contributed to the wrongful conviction, and a list of propose improvements in the Philadelphia criminal justice system to reduce opportunities for errors in investigations, prosecutions, and court procedures. Errors in the investigation included inaccurate witness identification, inadequate records, and issues in the investigation of alternative suspects. This led to the inaccurate arrest of George Cortez. Failures in the implementation of justice in the trial phase were identified as the prosecution office’s use of a cell phone belonging to a defense witness at the request of the court, along with inaccurate testimony by the prosecutor’s digital media expert. The PERT believes that if its recommendations for reform drawn from its analysis of the Cortez case had been in place at the time, he would not have been convicted and may not have been arrested. The case timeline and a list of PERT members are provided.