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Meet the five wrongly convicted men awarded millions of dollars by Maryland

Clockwise from top left: Walter Lomax, Hubert James Williams, Lamar Johnson and Clarence Shipley Jr. are among five exonerated men seeking compensation from Maryland. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)
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The Maryland Board of Public Works will award about $9 million to five wrongly convicted men who collectively spent 120 years in prison for crimes they did not commit.

It is the first time the board has awarded money to an exoneree since 2004.

The men submitted compensation petitions over the past 20 months, but Gov. Larry Hogan (R), the board chairman, initially said the panel did not have a clear-enough process to decide the size and other details of such payments.

Reporters and columnists from several news organizations, including Baltimore Sun columnist Dan Rodricks, wrote repeatedly about the ex-prisoners.

On Wednesday, after pressure from advocates, lawmakers and others, the board approved the awards on a 3-to-0 vote. Hogan was absent, but Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford (R) filled in for him.

Here are brief profiles of the men and details of their compensation packages:

Hubert James Williams: 11 years behind bars

Hubert James Williams was sitting on the edge of the bed at VA Medical Center in Northwest Washington one day this summer, waiting to learn if he would be sent to a rehab facility in West Virginia.

“Could you let us know where you are?” asked Andrew George, his attorney, who until that day hadn’t seen his longtime client in several months.

“Oh, yeah,” Williams said.

Williams, 68, is a recovering addict who has struggled with mental illness and had bouts of homelessness since being exonerated. In October, he was hospitalized after being assaulted while sleeping on a park bench. The state agreed to a request from his lawyers to provide money ahead of the settlement to place him in a residential treatment program.

He grew up in Baltimore County and was sexually abused by an older male neighbor, a trauma that his attorneys believe contributed to his substance abuse. He started smoking cigarettes at 7 and sniffing glue and gasoline at 10. By 13, Williams was drinking heavily and using speed, acid and quaaludes, according to legal documents. He was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1972 after serving for two years.

At age 22, Williams killed a friend’s ex-spouse. He was found guilty of second-degree murder and released on parole in 1997.

Five months later, he was accused in the shooting and attempted robbery of a bartender in Baltimore County. He had an alibi, but he couldn’t prove it, and he was convicted and sentenced to 100 years in prison.

A detective who had worked on the case as a uniformed officer eventually started looking into Williams’s claims of innocence and found witnesses who had lied under oath. The work persuaded prosecutors to push for his release.

Twice, Williams attempted suicide.

His attorneys petitioned the state for compensation in January 2018.

On Wednesday, he was awarded $903,560, to be paid in four installments between now and July 2021.

Lamar Johnson: 13 years behind bars

Lamar Johnson said he felt as though all the air left his body when the judge said the words: Life plus 20 years.

Tears streamed down his face. He turned to his mother and grandmother, who whispered: “Be strong; everything is going to work out in due time.”

His “due time” came 13 years and five months later, when he was exonerated for the 2004 murder of Carlos Sawyer on a city corner in East Baltimore.

Post Reports: “It took years and years for it to be found out that he was innocent. It only took two days for the jury to convict him.”

Johnson spent seven years working with the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project to prove his innocence. His attorneys found three eyewitnesses who said Johnson wasn’t the gunman, and a witness who said a different man admitted to the crime.

“Some days I felt hopeless because I thought I would never get out,” said Johnson, now 36 and doing maintenance work for Blue Ocean Realty, a company that has worked to help the wrongfully convicted. “But then I had a little hope because I knew I didn’t do the crime.”

When he was released, his mother threw a party to celebrate in a three-bedroom apartment in East Baltimore.

While everyone was gathered, Johnson found himself crouched on the bathroom floor unable to move. He sat there for 45 minutes.

Williams, who now has his own place in Baltimore, avoids crowds because they remind him of the prison mess hall. He often jumps when he hears loud noises, because they brings back memories of prison violence.

He’s been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and said no amount of money could compensate him for the lost years and the pain he endured.

“I was basically tortured mentally,” he said. “It kind of broke me. I’m still suffering. . . . I’m happy and thankful that I’m home, but I think I need counseling.”

He was awarded $953,672, to be paid in eight installments through July 2025.

Clarence Shipley Jr.: 27 years behind bars

The prosecutor offered him 15 years if he would plead guilty in the 1991 killing of Kevin Smith. Clarence Shipley Jr. refused.

“I told them it wasn’t me. The whole time, you know, ‘It wasn’t me, it wasn’t me,’ ” Shipley, now 48, recalled one recent day.

Despite many failed attempts to get his conviction overturned, he always maintained his innocence.

“I had to keep fighting,” he said. “I wanted to get back to my family. I can’t give up. I didn’t want to die. I was sentenced to die in that prison.”

Shipley grew up in South Baltimore and was working at a warehouse as a laborer when he was convicted. His family and friends hired a retired detective to look into his case, which was later determined to be based on faulty witness testimony.

While in prison, Shipley mourned the loss of his 12-year-old son, who died in a house fire in 2002. He missed watching his other son grow up. But Clarence Shipley III stood beside his father, with his hand on his shoulder, as Shipley Jr. faced television cameras the day he was released.

Shipley says he isn’t bitter and holds no ill will against anyone who participated in his incarceration. He says he became a Christian while incarcerated and that his faith in God allowed him to endure.

A family friend helped him get a job transporting drywall for a construction company. Now, he is doing maintenance for Blue Ocean Realty. He lives in Baltimore County with his wife, Jameka, whom he met and married while incarcerated, and his daughter and son. He divides his days among work, family and church.

“I forgave everybody that I wanted to forgive — the judge, the prosecutors, the eyewitness. . . . I forgave them,” Shipley said. “I got to know God for myself. . . . He still has his hands on me.”

Shipley was freed days before Christmas last year. Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby (D) apologized to him and wished him a happy holiday.

Asked in September what compensation from the state would mean, he said, his voice cracking: “Not only would it help me, it would help my family. My family still lives in the projects, still struggling. It would do a lot for me.”

He was awarded $2,102,792, to be paid in eight installments by July 2025.

Jerome Johnson: 29 years behind bars

Jerome Johnson tried 15 times to get the courts to overturn his conviction. Each time he was denied.

Twenty-two years after being convicted, Johnson was on his eighth attorney. Nancy Forster presented new evidence about faulty witness testimony to the Baltimore state’s attorney.

After they interviewed numerous witnesses, Johnson was declared innocent.

He walked out of prison on July 2, 2018, having served 29 years. Two days later, he watched the fireworks at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor to celebrate his freedom.

According to his petition for $3.5 million in compensation, Johnson was nearly stabbed to death by fellow inmates in 1990 and 1995. He missed the deaths of his parents and could not actively parent his daughter, who was a newborn when he was arrested at age 20. The two have never formed a bond.

Johnson, 51, is also suing the Baltimore City Police Department alleging that police purposely withheld evidence in the 1988 killing of Aaron Taylor.

Through his attorney, he declined an interview.

He was awarded $2,322,032, to be paid in eight installments through July 2025.

Walter Lomax: 39 years behind bars

When 20-year-old Walter Lomax was arrested for murder in 1967, he was naive about the justice system.

“I thought that the system worked, and that, since I had not committed the crime, they would find out the person who did and I would be released,” Lomax wrote in a book of essays about his incarceration.

He served almost 40 years in prison, the longest of any exoneree in Maryland’s history.

When he left for the police station in 1968, “I was thinking, ‘I’ll be coming back that afternoon,’ ” said Lomax, sitting in his office at Restorative Justice, the nonprofit he heads that works on social justice issues.

“I didn’t know it would take nearly 40 years to get back to that point.”

Lomax, whose 72nd birthday is Thursday, spent his early years in Tappahannock, Va., a small town nearly 125 miles from Baltimore. He moved to Maryland with his family at age 10. At 15, he said, he got into some trouble with the law and was charged with robbery and a car theft.

A few years later, he was wrongly charged with the murder of Robert Brewer, a grocery store night manager, after being included in a roundup by police, who were under great pressure to solve crimes in Baltimore City at the time. Lomax was identified in a police lineup, a less than reliable way of identifying a suspect.

In 2006, a judge ruled that Lomax’s defense lawyer was ineffective — among other things, the attorney did not offer evidence of arm and foot injuries Lomax had that could have proved his innocence. He was released, with the rest of his sentence erased.

In 2014, the prosecutor, armed with new evidence of faulty witnesses and official misconduct, signed a writ of innocence, which vacated the charges against Lomax and enabled him to petition for compensation.

While in prison, Lomax earned his GED and an associate degree and started a nonprofit that advocates parole reform. After his release, he served on a state task force that made recommendations for setting up rules for awarding compensation to exonerees.

He said the panel proposed that the state government use the federal model: $50,000 compensation for each year a person served, with awards made in a timely fashion.

Last year, he asked the Board of Public Works for $3.4 million.

He was awarded $3,026,840, to be paid in four installments through July 2021.

They spent 120 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. Will Maryland compensate them?

Md. board that could pay millions to the wrongly convicted splits over whether to do so

Under pressure, Hogan launches effort to pay five exonerated men

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