Three men exonerated in 1983 murder file federal lawsuit

BALTIMORE (AP) — Three men who were wrongly imprisoned for more than 35 years each for a murder they did not commit filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against Baltimore police, saying authorities coerced statements from witnesses whose testimony led to their convictions.

The lawsuit filed in Baltimore by Alfred Chestnut, Andrew Stewart and Ransom Watkins said in part that police faced pressure to find out who killed a junior high school student in 1983, news outlets reported.

The conduct of police detectives was part of a larger pattern at the time within the Baltimore police homicide unit, and points to other exonerations in which police withheld exculpatory evidence or coerced statements, according to the suit. The three men were released from prison last year.

The lawsuit targets three former homicide detectives as well as the Baltimore Police Department. All three detectives are retired.

Baltimore police spokeswoman Lindsey Eldridge said the department has a policy of not commenting on pending litigation.

The men were teenagers when they were sentenced to life in prison in 1984 for the slaying of 14-year-old DeWitt Duckett, who was shot in the neck while walking to a Baltimore school.

Baltimore prosecutors said police discounted interviews from other students who identified another person as the killer. The man identified by the other witnesses has since died.

The case was reopened in 2018 by the office of Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby after Chestnut sent a letter containing exculpatory evidence he had uncovered to the state’s attorney’s office’s Conviction Integrity Unit. News outlets reported Chestnut discovered evidence pointing to an 18-year-old who confessed to the shooting, according to Mosby’s office, as well as reports witnesses repeatedly failed to identify him.

Mosby’s office cited police and prosecutorial misconduct in the case, saying detectives targeted the three and used coaching and coercion of other teenage witnesses to make their case.

Maryland’s Board of Public Works voted in March to pay the three men a total of $8.7 million.

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