by Stacy M. Brown
Baltimore officials have agreed to pay $48 million to three Black men wrongfully convicted of a high-profile killing over three decades ago.
Alfred Chestnut, Andrew Stewart and Ransom Watkins, collectively known as the “Harlem Park Three,” were each incarcerated for 36 years for a crime they did not commit.
The agreement, the largest settlement in Maryland’s history, received unanimous approval from the Baltimore City Board of Estimates. The trio filed a federal lawsuit following their exoneration in 2019, and this resolution represents the conclusion of that case.
The men asserted that detectives involved in their case nearly 40 years ago had a history of coercing witnesses, casting a shadow of doubt over their conviction. The State’s Attorney for Baltimore City conducted a thorough re-investigation, affirming their innocence. Eyewitnesses recanted their previous testimony, which had played a pivotal role in the wrongful convictions.
“These are men who went to jail as teens and came out as young grandfathers in their fifties,” remarked Justin Conroy, the chief legal counsel for the Baltimore Police Department, during a meeting broadcast on YouTube.
Chestnut, Stewart, and Watkins will each receive $14.9 million as part of the settlement. According to Conroy, the remaining $3.3 million will cover legal expenses.
The wrongful convictions date back to November 1983, when police arrested the trio for the tragic killing of 14-year-old DeWitt Duckett. On his way to class, Duckett was accosted and fatally shot over his blue Georgetown jacket.
According to the Associated Press, the trio had been removed from the middle school earlier that day to visit their former stomping grounds. During a Thanksgiving Day search of Chestnut’s home, police discovered a Georgetown jacket. However, according to the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, a legal aid group instrumental in establishing their innocence, Chestnut’s mother was able to provide a receipt, proving its legitimate ownership.
With Chestnut’s filing of a records request in 2018, the case turned significantly. It unveiled evidence indicating multiple witnesses had identified a different 18-year-old suspect as the shooter. One student even witnessed the suspect fleeing and discarding a weapon as police arrived at Harlem Park Junior High School. At the time, authorities honed in on the trio, while the other suspect died in 2002. Conroy, addressing the Baltimore City Board of Estimates, stated that he was unaware of any ongoing investigations into prosecutorial misconduct or the 1983 fatal shooting.
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said the settlement responds to the “serious injustices” caused by a faulty justice system.
“Our city is in a position where, in 2023, we are literally paying for the misconduct of BPD officers decades in the past. This is part of the price our city must pay to right the many wrongs of this terrible history,” Scott stated.
The settlement adds to the $8.7 million previously approved by the Maryland Board of Public Works in March 2020 to compensate the three men. In a Facebook post, the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project acknowledged that “no amount of money can make up for the 36 years that each man lost” in prison.
Source: Published without changes from Washington Informer Newspaper