Three Baltimore men exonerated after serving 36 years in murder case
Three men were exonerated Monday after wrongfully serving 36 years in prison for the 1983 killing of a Baltimore teen.
Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins and Andrew Stewart were released hours after Circuit Judge Charles Peters cleared their murder convictions and prosecutors dropped the charges. The men were teenagers when sentenced to life in prison in 1984 for the killing of 14-year-old DeWitt Duckett, The Associated Press reported.
Duckett was attacked and killed in November of 1983 for his Georgetown University jacket while walking to class at his Baltimore school. Police and prosecutors later claimed they found Duckett’s jacket in Chestnut’s closet, although his mother showed a receipt for the jacket officers found to authorities, The Washington Post reported.
No blood or other physical evidence tied the boys to the crime, but four students testified the three boys had committed the murder. Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said Monday that the testimony was coerced and coached. Then her prosecutors appeared to ask the judge to throw out the three convictions, The Baltimore Sun reported.
“Present day, all four of those witnesses have recanted,” Assistant State’s Attorney Lauren Lipscomb told the judge, the newspaper reported. “There is evidence of coerced pretrial preparation … One former student told the state that they were told quote ‘Get with the program.’”
The case was the first homicide in a Baltimore public school, and Duckett’s murder sparked a national conversation over safety measures in schools.
Mosby’s office reopened the case earlier this year after Chestnut sent a letter to the department’s Conviction Integrity Unit. Prosecutors said police reports from the time show that multiple witnesses accused another man, who died in 2002, of shooting the boy. Chestnut also acquired more exculpatory evidence through a public records request last year, including that trial witnesses failed to identify the then-teenagers accused of the murder in a photo lineup, the AP reported.
Peters apologized to the men Monday.
“On behalf of the criminal justice system, and I’m sure this means very little to you gentlemen, I’m going to apologize,” he said.
Stewart told reporters that he cried in his bunk in prison upon hearing the news of his release. Chestnut hugged his mother outside of the Baltimore Circuit Court after being released.
“My mama, right here,” he told a crowd, The Baltimore Sun reported. “This is what she’s been holding onto forever, to see her son come home.”