Three men who were wrongfully convicted in the 1983 killing of a Baltimore teenager were freed today after 36 years in prison.
Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins, and Andrew Stewart were released from prison after having their life sentences overturned due to a re-examination of their case. The three men were accused of killing a student at a Baltimore school when they were all 16. The then-teenagers were said to be after the victim DeWitt Duckett's Georgetown Starter jacket.
Witness testimony that implicated an 18-year-old also at the school, stories from crucial witnesses who claimed they were coached by investigators at the time, and new evidence ultimately exonerated the three men.
Four people testified that the trio was to blame for the murder. All of those witnesses have since withdrawn their own testimony.
“Present day, all four of those witnesses have recanted,” Assistant State’s Attorney Lauren Lipscomb said in the reconsideration of their sentences. “There is evidence of coerced pretrial preparation ... One former student told the state that they were told quote ‘Get with the program.’”
Representatives of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, an organization that works to overturn wrongful convictions, said the men were waylaid into life in prison by a system that was looking for someone to blame.
"Everyone involved in this case — school officials, police, prosecutors, jurors, the media, and the community — rushed to judgment and allowed their tunnel vision to obscure obvious problems with the evidence," said Shawn Armbrust, executive director of MAIP. "This case should be a lesson to everyone that the search for quick answers can lead to tragic results."
A judge apologized to the men as they were freed.
"On behalf of the criminal justice system, and I'm sure this means very little to you gentlemen, I'm going to apologize," said Circuit Court Judge Charles Peters.