Reporting Monique Griego
BALTIMORE (WJZ) — More than a dozen convicted killers are released from prison on a technicality, and dozens more could follow.
Monique Griego explains the Court of Appeals ruling at the center of this controversy.
All of these men were convicted before 1980. And since then, the court has changed the way juries are allowed to decide cases.
Locked up for decades, 13 convicted murderers in Maryland are now free, after the state’s highest court overturned their convictions due to improper jury instructions.
“It’s absolutely the right decision,” said Mike Millemann, University of Maryland School of Law.
Millemann is working with dozens of inmates fighting for release under the Court of Appeals ruling.
The decision could entitle as many as 200 inmates, convicted before 1980 of crimes– including murder and rape, to new trials.
“These guys had fundamentally unfair trials. Really dysfunctional, structurally defective trials,” Millemann said.
The 30 to 40-year-old cases are now creating a mess of problems for prosecutors in Maryland.
“Trying to find witnesses, trying to find evidence that’s probably been destroyed,” said Scott D. Shellenberger, Baltimore County State’s Attorney.
Shellenberger says prosecutors are forced to decide whether to retry a case or cut a deal that could set a prisoner free. That’s exactly what happened to the 13 already released.
The Baltimore City State’s Attorney believed the men, most of which are elderly and in poor health, were not a threat to society.
“It’s really horrific for the families of the victims who are still around, and certainly still conjures up all those bad memories,” Shellenberger said.
While Millemann understands the pain of the families, he says what the court’s allowed in these cases is a wrong that needs to be righted.
“Their trials were flawed and there is no reason to trust any of the results of those trials,” said Millemann.
Seven more inmates are set to be released within the next month. They will all be put on probation, which means if they make one mistake, they will be sent back to prison for life.
Baltimore County has successfully fought to keep four offenders in prison. They have two more pending, but expect more.