"On behalf of the criminal justice system, and I’m sure this means very little to you gentlemen, I’m going to apologize," the judge told the men on Monday night
After nearly four decades spent behind bars serving time for a murder they didn’t commit, three Maryland men are going home.
Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins and Andrew Stewart have been officially exonerated of the murder of DeWitt Duckett in 1983, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced on Monday.
Circuit Court Judge Charles Peters released the men from prison, but not before apologizing for the system’s mistake,The Baltimore Sun reported.
“On behalf of the criminal justice system, and I’m sure this means very little to you gentlemen, I’m going to apologize,” Peters told the men Monday night after wiping out their convictions, the outlet said.
Chestnut, Watkins and Stewart were arrested on Thanksgiving Day in 1983 for the murder of Duckett, who was a 14-year-old ninth grader at the time of his death, NBC News reported. The three men, who were themselves teenagers at the time, were sentenced to life in prison the following year.
Duckett was shot in the neck inside of his middle school, which the three older boys had been visiting earlier in the day, according to CNN. Stewart was 17 at the time, and Chestnut and Watkins were both 16.
Duckett was reportedly attacked over his Georgetown University basketball jacket.
Chestnut owned a similar jacket, which investigators found in his bedroom and used as evidence for his alleged guilt — despite the fact that Chestnut’s jacket had no blood on it, his mother provided a receipt and an employee from the store where she purchased it testified that she had bought the jacket recently.
Chestnut filed an information request earlier this year, CNN reported, which led to the discovery that evidence had been withheld from the defense team during their trial.
Mosby said Monday that among the evidence kept from the defense attorneys at the time were anonymous calls that identified another shooter, who was allegedly seen wearing Duckett’s jacket and even confessed to the murder, according to the outlet.
“We have intentional concealment and misrepresentation of the exculpatory evidence, evidence that would have showed that it was someone else other than these defendants,” Mosby said, per CNN.
That suspect was shot in 2002 in another incident and has since died, the Sun reported.
Additionally, four students from Harlem Park Junior High School, where the shooting took place, have since recanted their testimonies, Assistant State’s Attorney Lauren Lipscomb said in court on Monday, the Sun said.
“I sat on my bunk when I got the information, and I cried,” Stewart addressed the crowd outside the courthouse on Monday night, according to video from the Sun. “I didn’t know how to stop crying until a friend of mine came to me and hugged me and said, ‘Man, your journey is coming to an end.'”
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“But it’s not,” Stewart continued. “My journey’s just beginning. Because I gotta learn how to live right now.”
“It wasn’t easy,” added Watkins. “You see us out here, we’re smiling. We’re happy that we’re free … But we’ve got a lot to fix … This should have never happened.”
“I look forward to living the rest of my life being as humble and peaceful as I am, praising God, looking out for my family,” said Chestnut. “Oh man, let me tell you. It’s out of this world … I’ve been always dreaming of this day.”
Mosby echoed the judge’s apology in a statement, saying, “Today isn’t a victory. It’s a tragedy that these three men had 36 years of their life stolen from them. On behalf the State’s Attorney office, let me say to these three men, I am sorry. The system failed you. You should never have seen the inside of a jail cell.”
After being taken away from their homes on Thanksgiving Day at gunpoint 36 years ago, the three now-free men plan to spend the holiday this week with their respective families and loved ones.