The Supreme Court on Wednesday announced it will hear arguments in a 1984 high-profile Washington murder case that resulted in eight D.C. men being sentenced to prison for the brutal sexual assault and murder of a Northeast Washington woman.
The men were convicted in 1985 in the beating death of Catherine Fuller, a mother of six, whose body was found in an alley. In 1985, a jury found the neighborhood friends, then between the ages of 16 and 21, guilty of first-degree murder.
Attorneys for the men argue that prosecutors failed to disclose information about other possible suspects, one of whom went on to be convicted of killing a woman in a similar manner as Fuller was. They also contend that prosecutors withheld information about an eyewitness who had described seeing a person in the alley about the time Fuller was killed, not a group of teens.
Six of the men — Kelvin Smith, Levy Rouse, Clifton Yarborough, Timothy Catlett, Russell Overton and Charles Turner — remain in prison. A seventh man, Christopher Turner, was paroled in 2010 after serving 25 years. The final defendant, Steven L. Webb, died in prison after an illness.
Prosecutors argued that Fuller, 48, who worked as a cleaning woman, was confronted by a group of teens after she left her home on a rainy afternoon to fill a prescription. They said she was beaten, sodomized with a 12-inch-long metal pole and died of her injuries.
The case drew notoriety for the brutality of the death and became one of the earliest examples cited by police of the rise of crews, or violent gangs of youths.
In 2012, several attorneys, along with the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, argued before a D.C. Superior Court judge that the men were falsely convicted, largely on the testimony of witnesses who have now recanted. After those hearings, Judge Frederick H. Weisberg rejected the claim and refused to order a new trial. The D.C. Court of Appeals also rejected the claim.
The Supreme Court could uphold the convictions or send the case back to the trial court. Prosecutors would have to decide whether to retry the matter.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment.
Barry J. Pollack, an attorney with the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, said his client, Turner, was “thrilled” that the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
“He is hopeful that justice will finally be done for him and for the others who were wrongfully convicted,” Pollack said.
In all, 17 people were charged in the slaying. Five indictments were dismissed, two defendants pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, and two were acquitted.
No argument date has been set before the high court, but attorneys said it could be scheduled as early as the spring. A decision could come by June.