A Maryland board voted Wednesday to pay a total of $8.7 million to three men who were wrongly imprisoned for more than 35 years each for a murder they did not commit.
The Board of Public Works, comprising the governor, comptroller and treasurer, voted 3-0 to compensate Alfred Chestnut, Andrew Stewart and Ransom Watkins about $2.9 million each. They were exonerated last year in the 1983 slaying of a Baltimore junior high school student.
“All of them experienced unimaginable pain while they were incarcerated, and there is no question that they deserve to be justly compensated as they work to rebuild their lives," Gov. Larry Hogan said.
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 class at a Baltimore school.
The case was reopened 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. Mosby's office cited police and prosecutorial misconduct in the case, noting that detectives targeted the three and used coaching and coercion of other teenage witnesses to make their case.
“It wasn't just a mistake,” Treasurer Nancy Kopp said before the board's vote.
Comptroller Peter Franchot said the men are victims of “a broken criminal justice system.”
“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 will receive $81,868 for each year of confinement. The amount was calculated by applying a five-year estimate of the Maryland Median Household Income in 2018 dollars. The men also will receive $10,616 for mental health and financial counseling.
In October, the board approved $9 million to compensate five men who were wrongly imprisoned for a combined 120 years in a separate case. That was the first time in 15 years the board exercised its authority under the law to compensate the wrongly convicted.
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.