Exonerations of the wrongly convicted can only be described as bittersweet. The joy at finally being found not guilty and released from prison is tragically tinged with the loss of so many years behind bars and so much suffering endured.
On Nov. 25, three men found their freedom after 36 years in prison for a 1983 murder they were wrongfully convicted of as teenagers. Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins and Andrew Stewart, now in their early 50s, were exonerated by Baltimore Circuit Judge Charles Peters after the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office presented evidence that police had pressured alleged eyewitnesses to falsely name the defendants. All four of those individuals have since recanted their accusations against the men.
It also was learned that detectives had withheld exculpatory evidence from attorneys in the case. That evidence identified another man as the killer of 14-year-old DeWitt Duckett, who was slain because the assailant, a fellow student at Harlem Park Junior High School, wanted his Georgetown jacket. The hidden evidence also indicated that the accused young men had left school earlier in the day, before the shooting took place.
Mr. Chestnut regained his freedom after filing a public information request that turned up a sealed court file of exculpatory material. That set in motion additional investigations, including work by the UB Innocence Project Clinic, and ultimately the decision by the State’s Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit to pursue exoneration. Mr. Chestnut is represented by Brianna Ford, of the UB Innocence Project Clinic, and Elizabeth Hilliard, of the Maryland Office of the Public Defender. Mr. Watkins is represented by the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and the Law Office of Christopher C. Nieto, and Mr. Stewart is represented by the law firm Nathans & Biddle, LLP.
Here are links to media coverage of this exoneration: The Washington Post, which had exclusive rights to interview the exonerees in prison and print the story a day before the exonerations; The Baltimore Sun, The New York Times, CNN, WJZ-TV Baltimore, CBS News, The Daily Beast.