SAO’s Conviction Integrity Unit forms partnership with Healing Justice to bring restorative justice to exonerees and families of crime victims denied justice
Campaign Includes Live Town Hall on October 2 and new mini-docuseries to spotlight wrongfully convicted men who served more than 260 years in Baltimore prisons
BALTIMORE, Md. (September 8, 2021) – Today, the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office (SAO) launched the ‘Faces of Actual Innocence' campaign, an initiative to inform residents and students in Baltimore City about the stories of men who were wrongfully incarcerated and the support underway for crime victims and their family members who were denied justice. The campaign includes video interviews with the exonerated men, a partnership with restorative justice nonprofit "Healing Justice", and will culminate in a panel discussion on October 2, 2021 – International Wrongful Conviction Day - at the University of Maryland, Baltimore School of Social Work Campus.
“As we approach International Wrongful Conviction Day, we must celebrate the freedom gained by these men and also recognize the families who are now forced to restart their healing journey,” said State’s Attorney Mosby. "While, there is no way we can ever repair the unspeakable trauma endured by these men and the victims’ families, we are here today to do our part to right the wrongs of the past and offer a real support network for those that have endured unimaginable trauma because of a flawed criminal justice system."
"When innocent people are convicted, the impact on the wrongfully convicted, their families, victims, and the community is catastrophic. Having a State's Attorney who recognizes the importance of this problem will not only help prevent wrongful convictions, but it will help restore the community trust that wrongful convictions have irreparably damaged. We're thrilled to continue our partnership to address these problems and encouraged that the State's Attorney has partnered with Healing Justice, the only organization that exists to address the collective harms to exonerees, victims-survivors, and their families,” said Shawn Armbrust, Executive Director, Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project.
The SAO’s Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) is also announcing a new partnership with the nonprofit Healing Justice which will provide a restorative justice program for both exonerated individuals and families of crime victims impacted by exonerations. Known nationally for their restorative justice work, Healing Justice will facilitate a six-week peer to peer model support group to explore restorative justice topics such as resilience, growth and the power of story. Building this foundation will provide exonerees an ongoing, expanded support network to aid in their ongoing healing. Similarly, SAO victim advocates will work alongside Healing Justice founder Jennifer Thompson to convene trauma-informed, victim-centered listening sessions with crime victim families who were personally impacted by the CIU's exonerations.
The outcomes and lessons learned gathered from these sessions will be an invaluable guide in charting how the SAO will continue to take concrete steps to ensure continued support and focus on the needs of victims’ families. Moreover, Healing Justice will also provide the CIU with trauma-informed training for staff at the State’s Attorney’s Office.
“Wrongful convictions cause tremendous damage to the exonerated and their families as well as to the original crime victims and their families, who are often overlooked. Ensuring that victims and families receive information and support, and are treated with sensitivity and respect, are key to protecting public safety, restoring confidence in our justice system, and helping all who are harmed in these cases to recover and rebuild. Healing Justice is honored to work with the State’s Attorney on this project to use restorative practices and restorative justice to create individual and community healing,” said Katie Monroe, Executive Director, Healing Justice.
In 2015, State’s Attorney Mosby reconfigured and expanded the Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU), charging the division with investigating claims of actual innocence and wrongful convictions. It was the first CIU in the State of Maryland; and it is now led by division Chief Linda Ramirez, and staffed by four Assistant State’s Attorneys (ASAs) and one law clerk. In 2018, the CIU expanded to include a new, grant-funded investigator dedicated to investigating the claims of actual innocence and wrongful conviction. The federal grant was received in partnership with the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and the University of Baltimore’s Innocence Project Clinic.
Within the CIU, the Conviction Integrity Program (CIP) was developed in 2016. The CIP is tasked with reviewing extrajudicial claims of factual innocence. The CIP staff is devoted full time to reviewing and investigating factual innocence claims which number averages between 75-100 claims each year.
“Placing a phone call and meeting with our crime victim families to inform them about a Conviction Integrity Program investigation and release is one of the hardest aspects of my job. We are disrupting any closure and peace that the family may have achieved over the years. This partnership with Healing Justice will provide an opportunity for our crime victims’ families to be heard and gain broader and ongoing support. For exonerees, it is invaluable to be connected to the larger, national exoneree community,” said Lauren Lipscomb, SAO Deputy State’s Attorney, Criminal Intelligence.
To date, the CIU has exonerated ten individuals who have served a combined total of over 260 years in prison for offenses that they did not commit. Despite the unfathomable trauma inflicted by the State on these men, they have agreed to join the SAO on October 2 at the University of Maryland at Baltimore School of Social Work for a panel discussion about their experiences.
- MELVIN THOMAS - On December 15, 2020, Melvin Thomas was exonerated for his role in a non-fatal shooting that he never committed. Mr. Thomas was found guilty by a court in 2001 and sentenced to 65 years in prison. Mr. Thomas’ conviction was predicated wholly on the testimony of one witness, the victim, who recanted after seeing the true perpetrator years later.
- KENNETH MCPHERSON AND ERIC SIMMONS - On May 3, 2019, Kenneth McPherson and Eric Simmons, who are brothers, were released from prison after being incarcerated for nearly 25 years in prison for a murder they did not commit. The original case relied heavily upon the observation of a benefitted witness and a witness who told several people that the defendants were not involved. The jury was not aware of these statements.
- ALFRED CHESTNUT, RANSOM WATKINS, AND ANDREW STEWART - On November 25, 2019, the CIU exonerated Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins, and Andrew Stewart, who were jailed for 36 years for a crime they didn’t commit. The three men were arrested on Thanksgiving Day in 1983 and convicted for the murder of a 14-year-old Baltimore teenager.
- CLARENCE SHIPLEY - In December 2018, the CIU collaborated with the University of Baltimore Innocence Project Clinic to exonerate Clarence Shipley who served 27 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. Mr. Shipley had been wrongfully convicted for the murder of Kevin Smith in 1991.
- JEROME JOHNSON - In July 2018, the CIU and its partners united to exonerate Jerome Johnson. Johnson was the third person to be exonerated by the unit in three and a half years. Mr. Johnson was released from prison after serving nearly 30 years in prison for the 1988 murder of Aaron Taylor shot to death at the Night Owl Bar.
- LAMAR JOHNSON - In September 2017, the CIU exonerated Lamar Johnson. Johnson spent nearly 14 years behind bars, for the first-degree murder of Carlos Sawyer who was shot in 2004. The subsequent re-investigation of the case began in 2016, and resulted in several independent witnesses confirming that Johnson was not the shooter.
- MALCOLM BRYANT - In May 2016, the CIU successfully exonerated Malcolm Bryant for the murder of a 16-year-old teenager. Bryant spent 17 years behind bars after he was wrongfully convicted in 1999 of second-degree murder.
To watch the premiere video to learn more about these 10 wrongfully convicted men, click here.
To submit an application to the Conviction Integrity Unit, click here.