This morning, the Baltimore City Circuit Court vacated the conviction of Melvin Thomas, who has spent nearly 19 years in prison for an attempted murder he did not commit. Later today, Melvin will leave prison as a free man, thanks to the work of our longtime friend and colleague, Booth Ripke of Nathans Biddle, and to our partnership with the Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) at the Baltimore City State’s Attorney.
Melvin has always maintained his innocence in the 2001 shooting, which took place outside a bar in East Baltimore. The victim told police shortly after the shooting that someone he knew, Donte Lyle, had been outside the bar with the shooter, whom the victim did not know. Police ultimately came to believe that Melvin’s brother had been at the scene and, for reasons that are unclear, put a picture of Melvin in a photo lineup. The victim identified Melvin as the shooter, and Melvin was convicted based solely on that testimony, even though Melvin didn’t match the description of the shooter and had no other known connection to the victim, the shooting, or the bar.
Years later, the victim was at a flea market in Baltimore and suddenly realized that he was staring at the person who actually shot him. The victim, who had honestly — but mistakenly — believed that Melvin had been the shooter, made a statement to Booth recanting his identification. Booth also gathered additional evidence about the identity of the real perpetrator and, based on that evidence, approached MAIP about presenting the case to the CIU, with whom MAIP shares a partnership.
In June 2019, Booth, accompanied by MAIP Legal Director Frances Walters and Baltimore City Paralegal/Investigator Emily Pate, presented the case to the CIU. Despite the pandemic and the limitations that places on investigation, the CIU was able to corroborate the victim’s recantation and gather additional evidence of Melvin’s innocence. Based on that evidence of innocence, the CIU agreed to seek Melvin’s release through a Writ of Actual Innocence. In granting the writ, the court made Melvin the ninth person exonerated through the CIU-MAIP partnership since 2015.
We’re proud to continue working with Booth and our CIU partners and lucky to have played a small role in Melvin’s exoneration. Most of all we’re thrilled that Melvin will be home and free for the holidays. Congratulations to Melvin, and thanks to all of you for the support that makes our Baltimore work possible!