This Day in History

Nov. 22, 2019: Harlem Park Three Released from Prison

Time Periods: 2001-
Themes: African American, Criminal Justice & Incarceration, Organizing

When they sent us to prison as teenagers, they stole our lives from us. They took our families from us. They took our childhoods. This lawsuit can’t bring back everything we lost, but it’s an important step as we try to move forward and heal. — Alfred Chestnut, 2020

The Harlem Park Three after their initial arrest in 1983. Source: The Washington Post

The Harlem Park Three after being released from prison in November 2019. Source: Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project

In late November 1983, three 16-year-old Black boys in the Harlem Park neighborhood of Baltimore were arrested for the murder of 14-year-old DeWitt Duckett at the local school. The three arrested — Alfred Chestnut, Andrew Stewart, and Ransom Watkins — were convicted of felony murder in 1984.

“At the May 1984 trial,” according to the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, “the jury deliberated for only three hours before convicting all three boys, who had claimed innocence from the beginning.”

Thirty-six years later, on November 22, 2019 — after Alfred Chestnut uncovered evidence showing their innocence, and after witnesses came forth admitting to being threatened by Baltimore police detectives if they did not identify the defendants — the three men were exonerated and released from prison. Collectively, they had spent over 108 years imprisoned for a crime they did not commit.

Alfred Chestnut, Andrew Stewart, and Ransom Watkins, and their respective families, will never regain the time they lost, nor recover from the trauma they suffered.

Following a wrongful conviction payout by the City of Baltimore, Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby said,

We should not have one individual who did not commit a crime still sitting in jail. This system and the recurring list of wrongful convictions has robbed countless young Black men of Baltimore City of their lives and liberties as fathers, brothers, grandfathers and members of society.

These three men were wrongfully sent to jail as teenagers, spent decades institutionalized, and now re-enter the free world and are expected to restart their lives. The toll on their physical and mental health is unimaginable. Our city should do everything in its power to provide the mental and emotional support these men, and anyone in their situations, deserve.

Additional Resources

Even Though They Are Free, Harlem Park Three Struggle To Adjust To Life After Prison, CBS News

Criminal Podcast, episode “Under Oath”

“No One Was Protecting Us” —Ransom Watkins of Exonerated Harlem Park 3, ACLU of Maryland Thinking Freely Podcast