Clarence Shipley Jr. is going to have a very special Christmas this year. That’s because on Dec. 18, after spending 27 years in prison — more than half of his life — he was exonerated on all charges against him and left the Baltimore city courthouse a free man.
In front of a packed courtroom, Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Geller granted a joint petition for writ of actual innocence that was submitted by the University of Baltimore Innocence Project Clinic (UBIPC) and the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City. After waiting anxiously for more than an hour in the back of the courtroom, Mr. Shipley’s family members wept and cried out at the joyous news.
Mr. Shipley, now 47, was convicted of first-degree murder in 1992, based on the testimony of an eyewitness who selected his photo from a photo array a week after the crime occurred. He had been falsely implicated in the murder by a jailhouse informant who provided the information when he was arrested for a series of car thefts in Baltimore city and Baltimore County.
The victim, Kevin Smith, had been shot in the course of a robbery in the Cherry Hill neighborhood. Several members of the community provided information to the police regarding the identity of the killer, Larry Davis, in the days following the murder, but Mr. Davis was never seriously pursued as a suspect by the police.
Mr. Shipley turned himself in to police but proclaimed his innocence from the beginning, saying that he was elsewhere during the shooting. Police did not investigate the alibi, nor did they follow up on additional tips that a different Larry Davis was the shooter. Mr. Shipley was convicted despite testimony from several alibi witnesses and testimony that he was left-handed, while the shooter was right-handed.
Mr. Shipley challenged his conviction repeatedly over the years but was denied relief in the courts at every turn. In 2014, his family hired a retired Baltimore Police Department homicide investigator to review the case. The investigator developed promising evidence and came to believe that Mr. Shipley was innocent.
He then presented the case to Professor Michele Nethercott, of the UBIPC, a joint project of the University of Baltimore School of Law and the Office of the Public Defender (OPD), and an affiliate of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project (MAIP). Professor Nethercott, UBIPC staff attorney Brianna Ford, and a MAIP investigator worked the case extensively, developing important evidence of Mr. Shipley’s innocence but lacking the necessary evidence to prevail in court.
Professor Nethercott, who is also an assistant public defender, presented the case to the Conviction Integrity Unit at the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office, which is part of a federally funded partnership with MAIP and UBIPC to collaboratively investigate potential wrongful conviction cases. The CIU investigation developed several new witnesses who proved Mr. Shipley’s innocence and the guilt of Larry Davis, who passed away in 2005.
“Wrongful convictions are not uncommon, but few prosecutors in Maryland are willing to work proactively to right these wrongs,” said Professor Nethercott. “I applaud State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby for acknowledging that wrongful convictions occur and that prosecutors have an obligation to exonerate the innocent, as well as to convict the guilty.”
Baltimore City’s is the only State’s Attorneys’ Office in Maryland with a unit dedicated to identifying and investigating wrongful convictions.
In 2008, OPD and the University Of Baltimore School Of Law established the Innocence Project Clinic to identify individuals like Mr. Shipley who have been convicted in Maryland state courts of crimes they did not commit, and to assist in the investigation and representation of their claims. The Innocence Project Clinic is also affiliated with MAIP, which provided investigative support in Mr. Shipley’s case.
The UB School of Law Innocence Project Clinic is supported by grants and donations from individuals and organizations who believe in its important work. To donate to the UB School of Law clinical program, visit this link. You may specify that you’d like your donation to go to a specific clinic in the Comments section of the form. Thank you!