Two brothers freed from prison—24 years later—after wrongful murder convictions

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Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr. Courthouse. Photo via Baltimore City Circuit Court.

Brothers Kenneth “JR” McPherson and Eric Simmons have been freed from prison after serving 24 years for a 1994 murder in East Baltimore—a case that prosecutors and their attorneys said hinged on “unreliable evidence” to convict the pair.

A city circuit court judge today granted city prosecutors’ request to vacate McPherson’s and Simmons’ convictions.

The Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and University of Baltimore Innocence Project Clinic, both pro bono organizations that work to overturn wrongful convictions, represented McPherson, 45, and Simmons, 48. The Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office’s Conviction Integrity Unit worked with both clinics to confirm the men’s original alibis, locate a new credible witness who could attest to their innocence and cast doubt on feeble evidence used to convict them in May of 1995.

Police had charged the brothers for killing Anthony Wooden, who was shot dead just after midnight in Broadway East on Aug. 31, 1994. Police and prosecutors relied on testimony from a defendant who was 13 years old and had been charged in Wooden’s murder. Simmons’ and McPherson’s attorney argued police had threatened the teen with homicide charges, which they then dropped after he gave the officers Simmons’ and McPherson’s names. The boy later recanted his testimony, both before and during the trial.

Police also used testimony from another witness, Diane Bailey, who attorneys said police paid off by covering her rent in exchange for her testimony. Bailey claimed she and her daughter both witnessed the killing from a third-floor window about 150 feet away, but attorneys proved in a post-conviction investigation that her daughter didn’t witness the act, and that the crime happened in another location, meaning Bailey could not have seen it happen from her window.

“JR and Eric never should have been charged based on such unreliable evidence, let alone convicted,” Frances Walters, counsel for the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and McPherson’s attorney, said in a statement.

Brianna Ford, deputy director of the University of Baltimore clinic and Simmons’ attorney, said in a statement, “Two and a half decades ago, this family lost not one but two brothers, not one but two sons. Today, they’re finally going to get them back.”

McPherson and Simmons mark the third and fourth exonerations stemming from work by city prosecutors and clinics in the last year. This past December, a judge overturned Clarence Shipley’s 1992 murder conviction after his attorneys and prosecutors successfully argued he was convicted using faulty testimony. Shipley served 27 years in prison.

Jerome Johnson was also freed last July after 30 years behind bars. He was convicted of murder in the 1988 killing of a man at a Park Heights liquor store, but argued for years that police had withheld testimony from a 15-year-old girl who could vouch for his innocence, and that police had pushed her to name him as a suspect.

Johnson sued BPD this past March seeking unspecified damages.

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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in CityLab, Slate, Baltimore City Paper, DCist and elsewhere.
Ethan McLeod
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