By Kevin Brown
The Maryland Board of Public Works on Wednesday approved a total of about $8.7 million in compensation for three wrongfully convicted men.
Alfred Chestnut, Andrew Stewart Jr. and Ransom Watkins were each given about $2.9 million in damages for spending more than three decades in prison due to convictions for a 1983 murder of a Baltimore middle schooler. They were exonerated in November.
“These were kids in middle school, and are only now getting the freedom they deserve and should’ve had all along,” Nancy K. Kopp (D), the state’s treasurer, said at the Board of Public Works meeting.
“All three of them experienced unimaginable pain while they were incarcerated,” Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan (R) said. “And there’s no question they deserve to be justly compensated as they work to rebuild their lives.”
Marilyn J. Mosby (D), the state’s attorney for Baltimore City, with her office’s Conviction Integrity Unit, led the investigation into reopening the case.
The three men were convicted for the murder of DeWitt Duckett, a 14-year-old boy who was killed before he could give up his Georgetown jacket. The suspected killer died in 2002.
The Board of Public Works awarded a total of $9.3 million to five other wrongfully convicted men in October, using the same formula to arrive at that compensation number as they did today.
That formula is based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent Maryland median household income figures. The Census Bureau calculates the median household income by averaging the five years prior, which in the case of the five men given compensation in October was a figure totaling $78,916 per year incarcerated.
For the latest three men, the board is using more recent annual census figures — $81,868 — to represent the cost of damages per year spent behind bars. The board also approved additional mental health and financial counseling funds of $10,616 for each.
“Although no dollar amount can restore what was stolen from them, I hope that today’s action brings some solace in the form of adjudication to these individuals,” Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) said. “We’ve deprived these men of their households, frankly, and any possibility of making an income to make any contributions in our state.”
Legislation making its way through the Maryland General Assembly would take away the Board of Public Works’ discretion for awarding compensation to innocent people who spent time behind bars through a requirement mandating the board use the current formula of a median household income.
It would also make administrative law judges responsible for determining who is eligible for compensation, and would allow for additional accommodations such as education or vocational training, housing and health care following their release. That legislation has not advanced out of committees.
The compensation for these three men must be paid in full by July 31, 2025 — with the first payment installment of $35,140 scheduled to be made 30 days after Wednesday’s approval.
“They deserve our most sincere apologies,” Kopp said. “Thank God it was recognized and thank God they maintained their faith in justice.”
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