This Thanksgiving will be extra sweet for three Baltimore men released from prison on Monday after serving 36 years for a murder they didn’t commit.
Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins and Andrew Stewart entered the prison system as 16 and 17-year-old teenagers. Yesterday, they received a writ of innocence in the death of a 14-year-old middle school student, DeWitt Duckett. They have always maintained their innocence, according to CNN.
“That was hell,” Chestnut said to reporters upon release, CNN reported. “That was miserable.”
On Thanksgiving morning in 1983, Chestnut, Watkins, and Stewart were arrested for the shooting death of Duckett, who was murdered for his Georgetown University jacket.
The state convicted the three young men based on witness testimony and a Georgetown jacket found in Chestnut’s room – even though his mom produced a receipt and a store clerk testified that Chestnut’s mom had purchased it. Further, the jacket had no blood on it or bullet residue. And like the case of the Central Park Five, the teenage boys were questioned by police without a parent in the room.
Last spring, Chestnut contacted Baltimore’s Conviction Integrity Unit, headed up by Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, hoping that they could find a way to exonerate Watkins, Stewart and himself. Mosby and the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project began re-examining the evidence and re-interviewing the four witnesses, all of whom recanted their initial testimony. Just a few months later, the men were officially exonerated, according to the New York Daily News.
Yesterday, Judge Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Charles J. Peters declared the three men innocent and offered an apology.
“On behalf of the criminal justice system, and I’m sure this means very little to you, I’m going to apologize,” said Judge Peters, the Washington Post reports.
Now the released men are middle-aged and the state of Maryland has no system in place to compensate them for their wrongful convictions. Mosby created the “Resurrection After Exoneration program to help wrongfully convicted people with medical insurance and to adjust back to society. Mosby also said she plans to push for laws that would pay inmates who are wrongly convicted and that would require a parent to escort underage kids during police interrogations. This is in addition to Mosby’s current crusade to get 790 criminal cases tossed out that were led by 22 corrupt cops.
“I don’t think that today is a victory, it’s a tragedy. And we need to own up to our responsibility for it,” Mosby said, according to CNN. “There’s no way we can repair the damage to these men when 36 years of their life were stolen from them.”
“You were all arrested on Thanksgiving 1983. Now you are free to spend the holidays with your loved ones for the first time in 36 years,” Mosby added during a press conference.