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Maryland board to vote on $2.9 million in compensation for wrongfully convicted Baltimore man

Cassidy Jensen, Baltimore Sun on

Published in News & Features

BALTIMORE — The Maryland Board of Public Works will vote on whether to award $2.9 million in compensation to a Baltimore man who served 31 years in prison before he was exonerated.

Gary Washington, 63, was convicted of first-degree murder and use of a handgun in a crime of violence in the 1986 fatal shooting of Faheem Ali and sentenced to life in prison. After a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge vacated his convictions in 2018, he was freed from prison and the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office dismissed the charges against him in early 2019.

The three-member Board of Public Works — composed of Democrats Gov. Wes Moore, Comptroller Brooke E. Lierman and State Treasurer Dereck Davis — is scheduled to vote Washington’s compensation at its May 1 meeting, according to an agenda posted online Friday.

An administrative law judge found that under the statute, Washington is entitled to $94,991, or the current median household income in Maryland, for each of the 31 years or “11,459 days” he was erroneously confined.

Key to the ruling that led to the reversal of his conviction was testimony from a 12-year-old witness, Otis Robinson, who recanted in 1999 and said police forced him to identify Washington falsely.

In a federal lawsuit filed in 2019 against five former Baltimore Police officers, Washington said detectives investigating Ali’s death coerced Robinson and a 13-year-old girl into testifying by threatening to take them away from their parents. Robinson said police told him: “If I didn’t cooperate, I would never see my mother again,” according to Washington’s lawsuit.

A U.S. District Court judge ruled in favor of the officers last year, finding that legal questions about Robinson’s credibility were long settled and could not be used to continue the lawsuit. Washington’s attorneys have since appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, where it is still pending.

 

Although the original lawsuit named five detectives, the Baltimore Police Department, the mayor and the city council, only claims against three officers remain as part of the ongoing appeal. Renee Spence, Washington’s attorney in that case, declined to comment Friday.

If the state board approves Washington’s compensation, he would receive the first payment by June 4 and the rest in installments over two and a half years. The Maryland Department of Budget and Management approved that “expedited” payment timeline, according to the board’s agenda.

Washington would become the 14th person to receive compensation under the Walter Lomax Act, a 2021 law the Maryland General Assembly passed to clarify how money should be awarded to people wrongfully convicted of crimes. The law was named for Walter Lomax, who spent nearly 40 years behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit and then fought for years to receive compensation from the state.

The board has awarded more than $9.2 million since the Lomax Act went into effect, not including compensation given out before that to 11 people after 2017 legislation expanded the eligibility of wrongfully convicted people, according to the board.

An administrative law judge granted Washington’s petition for compensation in January, finding that Washington did not shoot and kill Ali and was not involved in the crime as an accomplice or accessory. After the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office requested that a judge review that finding, Baltimore Circuit Court Associate Judge Troy K. Hill upheld the administrative law judge’s decision on April 5.


©2024 Baltimore Sun. Visit baltimoresun.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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