[Baltimore, May 3, 2019] Today, the Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) at the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office announced that it would agree to vacate the convictions and dismiss all charges against Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project (MAIP) client Kenneth “JR” McPherson and University of Baltimore Innocence Project Clinic (UBIPC) client Eric Simmons, two brothers who have each spent the past 25 years in prison for a murder they did not commit.
“Two and a half decades ago, this family lost not one but two brothers, not one but two sons.” said Brianna Ford, UBIPC Deputy Director and counsel for Simmons. “Today, they’re finally going to get them back.”
JR and Eric were convicted in 1995 of conspiracy to kill Anthony Wooden during an East Baltimore shooting just after midnight on August 31, 1994. They were convicted based on the testimony of two witnesses: (1) a paid witness who claimed to have seen the crime from a third-floor window that was 150 feet away; and (2) a 13-year-old boy who was threatened with homicide charges until he named JR and Eric, and who recanted his statement before trial and again at trial.
“JR and Eric never should have been charged based on such unreliable evidence, let alone convicted,” said Frances Walters, MAIP Counsel and JR’s attorney. “I’m so grateful that the State’s Attorney finally is righting this wrong.”
MAIP, UBIPC, and the CIU jointly investigated the case. That investigation further confirmed both men’s alibis, undermined the State’s already weak evidence, and developed a credible witness who said JR and Eric were not involved.
JR and Eric are the third and fourth people exonerated through this unique partnership in the past ten months, following Clarence Shipley in December 2018 and Jerome Johnson in July 2018. Last year, MAIP received a grant from the Department of Justice that formalized and funded this partnership between two innocence organizations and the only conviction integrity unit in Maryland. That grant funds CIU investigator Brian Ellis and MAIP/UBIPC Paralegal/Investigator Emily Heun Pate, both of whom were critical to achieving today’s result along with CIU head Lauren Lipscomb.
“The system failed JR and Eric at every level, and every stakeholder in the system has an obligation to learn from those failures,” said Shawn Armbrust, MAIP’s Executive Director. “I hope the SAO will do what it did in Malcolm Bryant’s case and convene every institution that played a role in this miscarriage of justice so we can avoid making these mistakes again.”
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 33 innocent men who spent a total of 600 years in prison for crimes they did not do. We have also helped pass 14 laws that help improve the criminal justice system.
The University of Baltimore Innocence Project Clinic is an affiliate of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and is also sponsored by the University of Baltimore and the Office of the Public Defender.
To download background information on Kenneth “JR” McPherson and Eric Simmons, please click here.