By John Vibes
On Monday, three men who spent 36 years in prison were finally released after it was determined that they were wrongfully convicted of murder.
In 1983, Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins, and Andrew Stewart were accused of killing a middle school student and were charged with first-degree murder as a result. At the time of the incident, Stewart was 17 while Chestnut and Watkins were both 16.
The men have spent their entire adult lives in prison with two of them having never even driven a car before. Last spring, Chestnut discovered that there was new information in the case after filing an information request. The additional evidence, which would have exonerated him, was reportedly kept from the defense attorneys during the initial trial.
Chestnut has always claimed he is innocent and was even denied parole because he refused to admit guilt for the shooting. According to prosecutors, the 14-year-old victim was shot and killed over a Georgetown University basketball jacket, which Chestnut was accused of stealing. Coincidentally, Chestnut owned the same jacket, which was found in his room and later used as evidence against him.
However, his mother was able to prove that it was indeed his jacket because she kept the receipt from the purchase. A store clerk even testified that he recently sold it to Chestnut’s mother.
The three boys were convicted on flimsy witness testimony, while a large body of evidence proving their innocence was held from the defense team and the jury, according to Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. Meanwhile, the witnesses that testified against the three boys have all recanted their testimonies in the years since the trial.
“We have intentional concealment and misrepresentation of the exculpatory evidence, evidence that would have showed that it was someone else other than these defendants,” Mosby said.
The additional evidence even included the confession of another suspect, who was also found with a jacket similar to the victims. The suspect has since died.
As Mosby suggested in a press conference with the wrongfully accused men, there is nothing that can be done to adequately compensate the three men for having their lives taken from them.
“I don’t think that today is a victory, it’s a tragedy. And we need to own up to our responsibility for it. 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 said.
Unfortunately, there is no clear path to compensate these men for the time that was stolen from them and their families. Mosby said in the press conference that the state of Maryland has no formal protocols for compensating people who are wrongfully imprisoned, but promised to advocate for laws to specifically address this concern. However, the three are able to take it upon themselves to file lawsuits for compensation, as many victims of similar circumstances have in the past.
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