Three Baltimore men, who spent 36 years in prison for a murder they did not commit, were spending their first full day of freedom Tuesday after prosecutors determined that another man had committed the crime and a judge threw out the convictions.
Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins and Andrew Stewart were released from custody Monday after Circuit Court Judge Charles Peters apologized to them on behalf of the criminal justice system.
“On the inside, I hate to put it like this, but we went through hell," Watkins said as family members and supporters mobbed the men after their release Monday night. "My journey is just beginning.
Said a weeping Dollie Boyd, Watkins' sister: "I just prayed to the Lord every day to bring my brother home. That's all I ever wanted."
Stewart said he sat on his prison bunk and sobbed uncontrollably when he heard he would be freed.
"My journey is just beginning," he said. "I have to learn how to live right now.”
DNA testing could exonerate man 13 years after he was executed for rape, murder
The men were teens when they were arrested on Thanksgiving Day in 1983, charged with fatally shooting DeWitt Duckett, 14, in the neck while stealing his Georgetown jacket as he walked to school. The suspects were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
The Baltimore Conviction Integrity Unit reopened the case last year after Chestnut obtained sealed documents through a public records request that revealed prosecutors had hidden evidence pointing to another teen – who was fatally shot almost 20 years later.
Investigators quickly determined that witnesses had failed to identify the men in a lineup and had been coerced into altering their testimony.
"Today’s exonerations aren’t a victory," Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby said after the hearing. "Three men had 36 years of their life stolen when they were just 16. There is no way we can ever repair the damage done. Time for all of us to own up to our role in locking innocent men behind bars."
Mosby said she will fight for compensation for the men. Last month, Maryland approved payouts totaling $9 million for five men wrongly imprisoned for a combined total of 120 years. A man who had served 38 years was given $3 million.
"Police corruption and prosecutorial misconduct have cost Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins and Andrew Stewart 36 stolen years," Mosby said. "They deserve support and compensation to start over. I will fight for it."