[Baltimore, December 18, 2018] Today, the Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) at the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office announced that it would agree to vacate the conviction and dismiss all charges against Clarence Shipley, who has spent the last 27 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.
Clarence was convicted in 1992 of killing 29-year-old Kevin Smith during a late-night robbery in Cherry Hill on October 25, 1991. Smith had been walking with two people when the robbery occurred, and one of them, “Witness G,” told police two days after the shooting that the shooter was Larry Davis. Police obtained a picture of a Larry Davis – not knowing that Witness G had been referring to a different Larry Davis. Unsurprisingly Witness G did not identify the Larry Davis presented to him in a photo lineup as the shooter.
Clarence became a suspect when police arrested “Witness AS” for several car thefts. Witness AS said he knew Shipley from the neighborhood and that Shipley had been in the area at the time of the crime. Witness G then identified Shipley as the shooter in a photo lineup.
Shipley turned himself into police but proclaimed his innocence from the beginning, saying that he was elsewhere during the shooting. Police did not investigate the alibi, nor did they follow up on additional tips that a different Larry Davis was the shooter. Shipley was convicted based solely on the testimony of Witness G and rebuttal testimony from Witness AS, despite testimony from several alibi witnesses and testimony that Shipley was left-handed (while the shooter was right-handed).
Shipley challenged his conviction repeatedly over the years but was denied relief in the courts at every turn. In 2014, his family hired a retired Baltimore Police Department homicide investigator to review the case; the investigator developed promising evidence and came to believe that Shipley was innocent.
He then presented the case to Michele Nethercott of the University of Baltimore Innocence Project Clinic (UBIPC), a joint project of the University of Baltimore Law School and the Office of the Public Defender, and an affiliate of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project (MAIP).
Nethercott, her students, and a MAIP investigator worked on the case for four years. Despite their belief in Shipley’s innocence, without the assistance of the prosecution, the team could not produce sufficient evidence to prevail in court on his innocence claim. Nethercott therefore presented the case to the CIU at the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office, which is part of a federally funded partnership with MAIP and UBIPC to collaboratively investigate potential wrongful conviction cases. The CIU investigation developed several new witnesses who proved Shipley’s innocence and the guilt of Larry Davis.
“Clarence Shipley’s case is yet another example of why it is so important for prosecutors to take innocence claims seriously, said Nethercott. “Without a real Conviction Integrity Unit to collaborate with me on this case, Clarence would be spending the rest of his life in prison for something he didn’t do.”
The reinvestigation of Shipley’s case at the CIU was conducted by Brian Ellis, who started at the CIU in August and whose position was funded by MAIP through a grant provided by the Office of Justice Programs at the Department of Justice. Shipley’s exoneration is the first funded by the grant but the fourth involving CIU collaboration with MAIP and/or UBIPC.
“I hope other Maryland prosecutors learn from the Conviction Integrity Unit in Baltimore City,” said Shawn Armbrust, MAIP’s Executive Director. “When prosecutors are willing to look at these cases collaboratively, we can free innocent people and work together to improve our criminal justice system.”
Founded in 2000, the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project corrects and prevents the conviction of innocent people in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. We are one of the most successful of the 54 innocence organizations in the country. We have helped to secure the release and/or exoneration of 30 innocent men who spent a total of 545 years in prison for crimes they did not do. We have also helped pass 13 laws that help improve the criminal justice system.