Three Maryland men who spent more than 30 years behind bars after their wrongful conviction in a schoolmate’s murder will be compensated.
On Wednesday, the Board of Public works approved an $8.7 million payout to Alfred Chestnut, Andrew Stewart and Ransom Watson, CBS Baltimore reports. The men will be awarded $2.9 million each, just months after being exonerated in the crime.
“I’m delighted that these three men have been granted the compensation they deserve,” said Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. “But it’s awful they had to go through a legal process to obtain [this] small measure of justice.”
Mosby said she is now pushing for state lawmakers to pass the exoneree compensation bill to ensure an “automatic and more humane” process for the wrongfully accused.
Chestnut, Stewart and Watson were just teens when they were convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the 1983 murder of DeWitt Duckett, 14, inside Harlem Park High School. The three were accused of shooting Duckett during a scuffle over his Georgetown University basketball jacket.
A review of their case found that investigators, including a detective, had coached and coerced four witnesses into pinning the killing on the three young men. Those students would later recant their statements.
“Present day, all four of those witnesses have recanted,” Assistant State’s Attorney Lauren Lipscomb told a judge last year. “There is evidence of coerced pretrial preparation. One former student told the state they were told, quote, ‘Get with the program.’”
Plus, prosecutors now say police ignored interviews from other students who identified another man as Duckett’s killer, The Baltimore Sun reports.
Chestnut, Stewart and Watson finally walked out of prison as free men in November 2019. They’d maintained their innocence from the start, a stance that was vindicated by Mosby’s conviction integrity unit, the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and University of Baltimore’s Innocence Project Clinic.
The trio will receive payments over seven years, according to the Sun, each getting $35,140 within 30 days of the board’s approval.
Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot said he knows no amount of money will make up for what was stolen from the exonerated men, but hopes the compensation will provide some sort of vindication.
“I think the state is going to have a way in which we correct quickly egregious wrongs like this that have been committed and do the right thing as far as providing a small inadequate healing to these situations,” Franchot told CBS Baltimore.
Local leaders are now calling for reforms to the state’s existing compensation law, which does not require the board to compensate exonerated individuals deemed innocent by a judge. Under the new legislation, backed by Baltimore County Sen. Delores G. Kelley and others, the board would have to “award a payment equal to the five-year average of the state’s median household income for each year of imprisonment,” the Sun reports.
State Treasurer Nancy Kopp offered her “sincerest apologies” to the three men, saying she was glad justice prevailed in the end.
Watch more in the video below.