After serving 25 years in prison following wrongful convictions for conspiracy to commit murder, brothers Kenneth “J.R.” McPherson, 45, and Eric Simmons, 48, were fully exonerated on May 3 and went home to their families. The exonerations were sought by the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) following investigations by the University of Baltimore Innocence Project Clinic (UBIPC), which handled Mr. Simmons’ case, and the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project (MAIP), which represented Mr. McPherson.
Those recent investigations determined that two of the State’s witnesses in the 1995 trial had provided unreliable evidence: One witness, whose rent was being paid by police, said that she saw the shooting from a third-floor window 150 feet away — a location recently determined to have made such an observation impossible — and a 13-year-old boy who had been aggressively interrogated and threatened with homicide charges until he named Mr. McPherson and Mr. Simmons. That juvenile later recanted his statement, but the men were convicted anyway.
In addition, the defendants’ alibis were not thoroughly investigated at the time, and exculpatory evidence was not shared with the defense, in violation of discovery rules. Investigations by UBIPC and MAIP confirmed the alibis, undermined some of the State’s other evidence, and produced a credible witness who supported the defendants’ claims of innocence.
Brianna Ford, deputy director of the UB School of Law Innocence Project, represented Mr. Simmons and investigated his case after the CIU asked the UB legal clinic for assistance.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Charles Peters, after remarking on the apparent sloppiness on both sides of the original trial, granted the writ of actual innocence presented by the State’s Attorney’s Office, effectively exonerating the brothers.
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