BALTIMORE (WJZ) – Imagine being convicted of a crime you didn’t commit and exhausted your legal options to prove your innocence. This was the case for 10 men in Baltimore until a new unit in the city attorney’s office worked to secure their freedom.
The program is called the Conviction Integrity Unit and, according to the office, “In 2015, the Mosby State Attorney reconfigured and expanded the Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU), tasking the Division with ” investigate allegations of actual innocence and wrongful convictions.
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A team of lawyers constitutes the unit. The department said it meticulously scrutinized the cases of people convicted of major crimes and if they found evidence to prove someone was innocent, they would fight to get them out of jail.
“Our ability to step in and do the right thing when the criminal justice system has gone completely wrong is rare, but when it does, we really have an obligation to make sure we’re there and that we are able to fix it, ”said Deputy State Attorney Lauren Lipscomb.
Anyone can apply to have their case reviewed and since the start of the program, State Attorney Marilyn Mosby has said 10 men who had been wrongfully convicted have been released.
“Your mission as a prosecutor is to seek justice on convictions, that’s what made me want to be a prosecutor, and so in the same way that we defend victims of crime, it is the same way that when the evidence exists, for us to zealously defend those who have been wrongly convicted, ”said City Attorney Mosby.
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Alfred Chestnut, Andrew Stewart and Ransom Watkins are among the 10 men who have been cleared. Chestnut, Stewart, and Watkins are known as the Harlem Park Three. The young men were wrongly convicted of murder in 1983 when they were 16 years old. They were convicted of murdering their childhood friend Dewitt Duckett in the hallway of Harlem Park Middle School.
“I spent 36 years in prison for a crime I didn’t commit,” Watkins said. “I was at home sleeping one night in 1983, woken up by a group of officers with guns in my face.”
State Attorney Mosby described the men as courageous because they continued to fight for justice even after many years.
Watkins described the challenges of hanging on to the hope that someone would believe he was innocent.
“When you are so beaten I understand why you give up. I was dead by then when they locked me up for a murder I didn’t commit. I was there 36 years old at one point, I had no more fighting in me, ”said Watkins.
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Today, the 10 innocent men are part of the “Faces of real innocence”. The men are scheduled to participate in a town hall on Oct. 2 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the auditorium of the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. Click here for more information.