Washington (AFP) - Three Baltimore men who spent 36 years in prison were exonerated on Monday of the 1983 murder of a teenage boy who was shot dead over a jacket.
Alfred Chestnut, Andrew Stewart and Ransom Watkins were serving life sentences for the shooting of DeWitt Duckett, a 14-year-old student at Harlem Park Junior High School in West Baltimore.
Duckett was shot in the neck inside his school and had his Georgetown University jacket stolen. It was the first fatal shooting of a student in a Baltimore public school and drew widespread press attention at the time.
"These three men were convicted, as children, because of police and prosecutorial misconduct," Baltimore state's attorney Marilyn Mosby said after the three were formally exonerated by a city circuit court judge and released from prison.
"What the state, my office, did to them is wrong," Mosby said. "They deserve so much more than an apology. We owe them real compensation -- and I plan to fight for it."
In a statement, the state's attorney office said "detectives targeted the three men, all 16-year-old Black boys, using coaching and coercion of other teenage witnesses to make their case."
According to the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project (MAIP), which worked to secure the release of the "Harlem Park Three," four teenage witnesses identified Chestnut, Stewart and Watkins at their trial but later recanted their testimony.
The witnesses initially said one person committed the shooting but identified the three as the assailants under pressure from police, the MAIP said in a statement.
Chestnut was later seen wearing a Georgetown jacket but his mother produced a receipt for the jacket of the university made popular by its basketball team.
At a press conference following the release of the three, Watkins said "this should have never happened."
"Somebody's got to pay for this," he said. "You can't just leave this like this.
"This fight is not over," Watkins said. "You all will hear from us again."
The exoneration of the three men followed a joint investigation by the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Conviction Integrity Unit, MAIP and other groups.
"Everyone involved in this case -- school officials, police, prosecutors, jurors, the media, and the community -- rushed to judgment and allowed their tunnel vision to obscure obvious problems with the evidence,” MAIP executive director Shawn Armbrust said.
According to the state's attorney's office, six wrongfully convicted men have previously been released following investigations involving the Conviction Integrity Unit.