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Trio Walk Free From Jail, 36 Years After Wrongfully Convicted Of Murder

Three men falsely accused of murder have got their first taste of freedom after spending decades behind bars for a murder they didn't commit.

Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins and Andrew Stewart were arrested over the 1984 murder of a 14-year-old boy in the U.S. state of Maryland.

The trio was accused of shooting DeWitt Duckett in the neck as he walked down a hallway at Baltimore high school. According to police, they were after the victim's coveted Georgetown University basketball jacket.

The jacket was found in Chestnut's bedroom, with no blood or gunshot residue, yet prosecutors said it was a crucial piece of evidence at the time.

Despite that, a jury soon convicted Chestnut, Watkins and Stewart of murder, sending them away for life.

After 36 years, Alfred Chestnut, Andrew Stewart, Ransom Watkins are free. Image: Shaun King via Twitter

It was later revealed that the suspects, aged just 16 and 17 at the time, were interrogated by police without their parents, while witnesses were interviewed in a group and told to "get their story together," Chestnut's lawyers said.

None could identify the three accused killers in photo line-ups.

Authorities were accused of withholding anonymous reports identifying another suspect who was seen fleeing the crime scene, with the jacket in hand and confessing to the murder.

That suspect died in 2002.

Alfred Chestnut hugs his mother Sarah after his release. Image: AP

In a bid for freedom, Chestnut successfully obtained case documents last year that had been previously sealed by a judge, and asked the Conviction Integrity Unit for help.

By mid-2019, the case was reopened and 36 years later, a judge cleared the trio's convictions and prosecutors dropped the charges. 

On Monday, Chestnut, Watkins and Stewart -- now greying and in their 50s -- walked from prison as free men for the first time in their adult lives.

"I don't think that today is a victory, it's a tragedy, and we need to own up to our responsibility for it," Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby said.

"There's no way we can repair the damage to these men, when 36 years of their life were stolen from them."

"These three men were convicted, as children, because of police and prosecutorial misconduct," Mosby said in a statement on Monday.

"Detectives targeted the three men, all 16-year-old black boys, using coaching and coercion of other teenage witnesses to make their case".

The trio spoke to the media briefly as free men.

“I’ve been always dreaming of this day,” Chestnut said.

“All my friends in prison know that I’ve always been talking about this, dreaming about this all of the time. Even when I was a kid, you know? ‘Why is this happening to me?’”

Andrew Stewart walks with his mother Mary and her daughter Ulonda after being freed from prison. Image: Getty

Watkins said the incident "should never have happened," and vowed that that "the fight is not over".

"You all will hear from us again," he said.

Image: Kelsey Kushner via Twitter

Stewart said he sat on his bed and cried when he got the information.

"I didn’t know how to stop crying until a friend of mine said man your journey is coming to an end, but it’s not. My journey is just beginning because I have to learn how to live right now," he said.

In the wake of the exonerations, Mosby announced a new program -- Resurrection After Exoneration -- to provide services, including education and mental and physical health programs, to help those wrongfully imprisoned reintegrate into society.