Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins and Andrew Stewart were released and exonerated after spending 36 years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit.
The men were teenagers when they received a life sentence in 1984 after being convicted of murdering 14-year-old DeWitt Duckett in Baltimore.
“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 the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, which represents Watkins.
“This case should be a lesson to everyone that the search for quick answers can lead to tragic results,” Armbrust said.
DeWitt reportedly was shot in the neck following a dispute over a jacket as he walked to class at Harlem Park Junior High School in Baltimore.
Marilyn Mosby, the Baltimore City State’s Attorney, reopened the case earlier this year because of lingering questions and recent revelations of corruption in the city’s police department that allegedly stretched back for decades.
Chestnut also sent a query to the city’s Conviction Integrity Unit, which the Washington Post said included exculpatory evidence that he uncovered in 2018.
An assistant prosecutor who worked on the case in 1984 reportedly said that prosecutors had no reports at the time that would have cast doubt on the guilt of the three men.
Following their conviction, court records were sealed, and it wasn’t until a year ago, that Chestnut had successfully obtained the related documents through a freedom of information request.
According to the District Attorney’s office, the police records revealed that several witnesses told authorities that the person responsible was an 18-year-old who immediately fled the scene and dumped his weapon.
Instead, the Baltimore police focused their investigation on Chestnut, Watkins, and Stewart. The alleged shooter was fatally shot in 2002.
“On behalf of the criminal justice system, and I’m sure this means very little to you, gentlemen, I’m going to apologize,” Circuit Court Judge Charles Peters told the men at a hearing on Monday, November 25.
Peters said the men are entirely exonerated.