Three Maryland men sentenced to life in prison for murder as teenagers were exonerated Monday after serving 36 years in prison. "On behalf of the criminal justice system, and I'm sure this means very little to you gentlemen, I'm going to apologize," a Baltimore Circuit Court judge told Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins, and Andrew Stewart before allowing them to walk free, per the Washington Post. The three had been named by witnesses in a 1984 killing—the first in a Baltimore city school, reports the Baltimore Sun. DeWitt Duckett, 14, was fatally shot for his Georgetown University jacket inside Harlem Park Junior High School on Nov. 18, 1983. High school students Chestnut, Watkins, and Stewart had been hanging around the school before being kicked out at 12:45pm, half an hour before the shooting. Yet four Harlem Park students identified them as the culprits.
All four have since recanted their testimony. Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby said Monday that they had been coached and coerced by authorities despite other witnesses identifying the shooter as 18-year-old Michael Willis, since deceased. One witness saw Willis run from the scene and dispose of a gun. Another heard him confess, and a third saw him wearing a Georgetown jacket hours after the shooting. That information wasn't conveyed at trial. Nor was the fact that the Chestnut's mother had the receipt for a Georgetown jacket found hanging in her son's closet. "You cannot make this up," says Lauren Lipscomb, head of the Conviction Integrity Unit within the state's attorney's office, which took up the case on Chestnut's plea in May. "Finally, somebody heard my cry," Chestnut, 52, tells the Post. "I give thanks to God and Marilyn Mosby." (Read more exoneration stories.)