BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Imagine being convicted of a crime you did not commit and you’ve exhausted your legal options to prove your innocence. That was the case for 10 men in Baltimore until a new unit in the City State’s Attorney’s Office worked to get them their freedom.

The program is called the Conviction Integrity Unit and according to the office, “In 2015, State’s Attorney Mosby reconfigured and expanded the Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU), charging the division with investigating claims of actual innocence and wrongful convictions.”

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A team of attorneys makes up the unit. The department said they meticulously review cases of people who have been convicted for major crimes and if they find evidence that proves someone is innocent, they fight to get them out of prison.

“Our ability to go in and do the right thing when the criminal justice system has gone completely awry, it’s rare, but when it does happen we really have an obligation to make sure that we are there and that we are able to correct it,” said Lauren Lipscomb, the deputy state’s attorney.

Anyone can submit an application to have their case reviewed and since the program started State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said 10 men who were wrongfully convicted have been released.

“Your mission as a prosecutor is to seek justice over convictions, that’s what compelled me to be a prosecutor, and so the same way that we advocate for victims of crime is the same way that when the evidence exists, for us to zealously advocate for those that have been wrongly convicted,” said City State’s Attorney Mosby.

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Alfred Chestnut, Andrew Stewart, and Ransom Watkins, are among the 10 men who have been exonerated. Chestnut, Stewart and Watkins are known as the Harlem Park Three. The young men were wrongfully convicted of murder in 1983 when they were 16-years-old. They were convicted of murdering their childhood friend Dewitt Duckett in the hallway of Harlem Park Middle School.

“I spent 36 years in prison for a crime I didn’t commit,” said Watkins. “I was home sleeping one night in 1983 awakened by a bunch of officers with guns in my face.”

State’s Attorney Mosby described the men as courageous because they kept fighting for justice even after many years.

Watkins described the challenges of holding on to hope that someone would believe he was innocent.

“When you’re beaten down so bad I understand why you give up. I was dead at that point when they locked me up for murder I didn’t commit. I was there 36 years at some point in time I didn’t have no more fight in me,” said Watkins.

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Today, the 10 exonerated men are part of the “Faces of Actual Innocence”. The men are expected to participate in a town hall, on Oct. 2 from 1 p.m. – 3 p.m. at the School of Social Work auditorium at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Click here for more information.

Ava-joye Burnett