Md. OKs $8.7M in compensation for 3 wrongly imprisoned for 36 years

Andrew Stewart, from left, Alfred Chestnut, and Ransom Watkins speak Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, in Baltimore, Md. The three men had been incarcerated for 36 years in Maryland were exonerated in the slaying of a Baltimore teenager after a review of their case. (Jerry Jackson/The Baltimore Sun via AP)

Three men who were wrongly imprisoned as teenagers 36 years ago for killing a 14-year-old in Baltimore will be receiving $8.7 million in compensation from the state.

The Maryland Board of Public Works on Wednesday voted for the compensation for Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins and Andrew Stewart, who were sentenced to life in prison in 1984 for killing DeWitt Duckett over a Georgetown University basketball jacket the previous year.

Comptroller Peter Franchot said the compensation was based on Maryland’s median household income of $81,868 per year, and called it “a small, inadequate healing.”

“We chose that [number] intentionally,” Franchot said, because the convictions “deprived these men of the opportunity to have a household income.”

“And although no dollar amount can restore what was stolen from them, I hope that today’s action brings some solace and a sense of vindication for these three individuals,” Franchot said.

The men also will receive $10,616 for mental health and financial counseling.

“All of them experienced unimaginable pain, and there is no question they deserve to be justly compensated as they work to rebuild their lives,” Gov. Larry Hogan said.

He reiterated his call for a legislative solution, so that any future cases could be determined by a fixed formula.

“It wasn’t just a mistake; someone else did the deed and it was known,” Treasurer Nancy Kopp said. “I just thank God it was recognized, and I thank God they retained their faith in justice.”

Their convictions were cleared last November. Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby reopened the case after Chestnut obtained records that showed multiple witnesses told the police that someone else had killed Duckett, NBC News reported.

The main piece of evidence against Chestnut was a Georgetown jacket found in his closet, but it had no blood stains on it; his mother had the receipt and a cashier recalled Chestnut’s mother buying it, CNN reported.

A prosecutor reportedly coached other witnesses to identify the three men; the witnesses later recanted their testimony. The prosecutor also told the court that there were no reports that anyone else might have committed the crime.

The three men are the seventh, eighth and ninth defendants released as a result of the prosecutor’s Conviction Integrity Unit, The Washington Post reported.

In October, the state approved about $9 million in compensation to five other wrongfully convicted men who were imprisoned for a combined 120 years.

Maryland lawmakers are considering legislation this year to change the state’s procedures for compensating the wrongly convicted. The measure would determine a fixed amount for compensation based on the five-year average of the state’s median household income. It also would designate administrative law judges to determine eligibility.

Prisoners who meet one of five conditions would be eligible: those who have been pardoned by the governor; who have a certification of innocence by a state’s attorney or a finding of innocence from an administrative law judge; and prisoners whose convictions were reversed or who were retried and acquitted.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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