'I'm looking forward to living the rest of my life': Trio released after 36 years in jail for murder they did not commit

  • Video report by ITV News Washington Correspondent Robert Moore

Three men falsely convicted of the murder of a teenager in the US have been set free after 36 years in prison.

Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins and Andrew Stewart were released from custody hours after a judge cleared their convictions and prosecutors dropped the charges following a review of the case.

The trio were teenagers when they were sentenced to life in prison in 1984.

"On behalf of the criminal justice system, and I’m sure this means very little to you gentlemen, I’m going to apologise," Circuit Court Judge Charles Peters told the men, the Baltimore Sun reported.

Speaking after being released, Mr Chestnut said he was "looking forward to living the rest of my life, being humble and as peaceful as I am, praising God, looking out for my family."

"Oh man, let me tell you, it's out of this world," he added.

Mr Chestnut, Mr Watkins and Mr Stewart were arrested on November 1983 for the killing of 14-year-old DeWitt Duckett.

The teenager was accosted over his Georgetown jacket and shot in the neck while walking to class at a Baltimore school.

The case was reopened earlier this year by the office of Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby after Mr Chestnut sent a letter to the Conviction Integrity Unit.

The Washington Post reported Mr Chestnut included evidence he uncovered last year that proved the men's innocence.

Andrew Stewart joins his mother Mary, left, and his sister, Ulonda, right, after his release. Credit: AP

Prosecutors now say police reports show multiple witnesses told authorities that they saw the suspect, who was 18 at the time of the crime, flee the scene and dump a gun as police arrived at Harlem Park Junior High School.

However, police at the time focused their investigation on the trio.

The suspect was shot to death in 2002.

Andrew Stewart, from left, Alfred Chestnut, and Ransom Watkins speaking in Baltimore. Credit: AP

An assistant prosecutor working on the case told the court in 1984 that the state did not have any reports which would have raised doubts about the defendants' guilt even though police records had statements involving the 18-year-old and also showed trial witnesses had failed to identify the teenagers in photo lineups.

A judge sealed those documents, but Mr Chestnut obtained them through a public records request last year.

"Everyone involved in this case - school officials, police, prosecutors, jurors, the media, and the community - rushed to judgment and allowed their tunnel vision to obscure obvious problems with the evidence," said Shawn Armbrust, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, which represents Mr Watkins.

Mr Armbrust added that "this case should be a lesson to everyone that the search for quick answers can lead to tragic results."