This Baltimore Settlement Is Maryland’s Biggest Ever

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In November 1983, 14-year-old DeWitt Duckett was fatally gunned down in Baltimore, and cops soon said they had their suspects: three other neighborhood teens, all 16, who were arrested on Thanksgiving Day and subsequently convicted of murder and sent to prison for life. That trio—Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins, and Andrew Stewart, now all in their 50s—were exonerated, however, in 2019, and Maryland’s biggest city has now settled their 2020 federal lawsuit against the Baltimore Police Department and multiple detectives. The amount to be paid out to the men is no small sum: $48 million, as determined by the city’s Board of Estimates, per the New York Times, which calls it “the largest amount awarded in Maryland in such a case.”

The convictions against the men—known as the “Harlem Park Three,” per the AP—began to unravel in 2018, when, thanks to a public records request, Chestnut unearthed evidence that pointed to another gunman, an individual who’d died in 2002. The Washington Post notes that Watkins and Stewart had already “resigned themselves to life behind bars” after their appeals failed, but Chestnut was more persistent and continued to dig. An investigation was relaunched, in which witnesses recanted previous testimony and said that detectives coerced them on their original statements, which had helped convict the men. Their innocence was eventually proven, leading to their release from prison in November 2019.

The three men had previously received $2.9 million each from the city, via a compensation program for exonerated individuals. The new $48 million settlement will be split three ways, with each man receiving about $14.9 million, and their attorneys receiving around $3 million for legal fees. “Imagine [having] your life ripped up from under you at age 16 for 36 years,” Nick Mosby, president of the Baltimore City Council, said on Wednesday, per the Times. “We’ve literally destroyed these individuals’ lives.” (Read more wrongful conviction stories.)

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