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Trio freed after 36 years in prison for a murder they did not commit

Sky News logo Sky News 26/11/2019

a man wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: Ransom Watkins, Alfred Chestnut and Andrew Stewart (left to right) have been released © Associated Press Ransom Watkins, Alfred Chestnut and Andrew Stewart (left to right) have been released Three men who spent 36 years in prison for the murder of a US teenager have been released after their convictions were quashed.

Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins and Andrew Stewart were freed from custody hours after a judge cleared them and prosecutors dropped the charges.

They were teenagers when they were sentenced to life in prison for the murder of 14-year-old DeWitt Duckett in Baltimore, Maryland in 1984.

a man wearing a hat posing for the camera: Ransom Watkins pictured recently (left) and at around the time of his arrest aged 16 (right). Pic: Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project © Other Ransom Watkins pictured recently (left) and at around the time of his arrest aged 16 (right). Pic: Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project

According to the Baltimore Sun newspaper, Judge Charles Peters told the men: "On behalf of the criminal justice system, and I'm sure this means very little to you gentlemen, I'm going to apologise."

Chestnut, Watkins and Stewart were arrested in November 1983 over DeWitt's murder.

DeWitt had been accosted over his Georgetown jacket and shot in the neck while walking to school in Baltimore.

a group of people in a room: The men were embraced family members after their release © Associated Press The men were embraced family members after their release

The case was reopened earlier this year by the office of Baltimore city state's attorney after Chestnut sent a letter to its conviction integrity unit.

Chestnut included exculpatory evidence he uncovered last year, the Washington Post reported.

Prosecutors now say police reports show multiple witnesses told detectives that another suspect, who was 18 at the time of the crime, was the gunman.

a man and a woman taking a selfie: Alfred Chestnut was wrongly convicted of murder © Associated Press Alfred Chestnut was wrongly convicted of murder

One student saw him flee the scene and dump a gun as police arrived at Harlem Park Junior High School, but authorities at the time focused their investigation on the trio.

The new suspect was shot to death in 2002.

An assistant prosecutor working on the case told the court in 1984 that the state did not have any reports that would have raised doubts about the defendants' guilt.

a group of people standing in a room: Andrew Stewart was greeted by his mother after being freed © Associated Press Andrew Stewart was greeted by his mother after being freed

But police records showed that trial witnesses had failed to identify the three men in photo line-ups and had statements involving the 18-year-old suspect.

A judge sealed those documents, but Chestnut obtained them through a public records request last year.

Shawn Armbrust, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, which represents Watkins, said: "Everyone involved in this case - school officials, police, prosecutors, jurors, the media, and the community - rushed to judgement and allowed their tunnel vision to obscure obvious problems with the evidence."

Mr Armbrust added that "this case should be a lesson to everyone that the search for quick answers can lead to tragic results".

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