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Maryland Compensates Exonerated Prisoner Over $340,000

On September 20, 2023, the Maryland Board of Public Works approved over $340,000 in compensation to Demetrius Smith, who spent years unjustly incarcerated—more than a year of that time after his innocence had been established. Gov. Wes Moore (D), who chairs the three-­member Board, personally apologized to Smith, who was also present at the hearing.

“We’re here today more than 10 years after he was released from incarceration, providing Mr. Smith with long overdue justice that he was deprived of, an apology from the state of Maryland that until today he’s never received,” Moore stated.

Smith’s wrongful conviction dates to 2008 when, at the age of 25, he was charged with killing Robert Long, who was cooperating with police in prosecuting Jose Morales for drug crimes. As Moore noted, the presiding judge during Smith’s bail hearing called his case “probably the thinnest” he had ever encountered. Nevertheless, “the prosecution was determined to press forward,” Moore recalled, “relying on testimony from a witness who was later found to have not even been at the scene of the crime.”

Less than two months after his initial arrest, while still out on bail, Smith was arrested once more and taken into custody for first-­degree assault. In this case, too, the prosecution relied on witnesses who would later recant their testimony, according to the governor.

In 2010, Smith was convicted of Long’s murder and handed a life sentence, along with an additional 18 years. In 2011, he entered an Alford plea for the assault charge. An Alford plea does not constitute an admission of guilt but acknowledges the probability of a conviction if the case were to proceed to trial. As Moore explained, Smith opted for the plea after losing faith in the criminal justice system.

It wasn’t until 2011 that the Maryland U.S. attorney’s office charged Long’s actual murderer, Troy Allen “Madron” Lucas. Nonetheless, Smith languished in prison for another year and a half before the state eventually dropped his murder conviction in 2012.

In May 2013, Smith petitioned a state court to revisit his Alford plea for the assault charge. That led to a modification of his sentence to time served, with an additional three years of probation that was later reduced. Meanwhile Morales was sentenced in December 2013 for arranging the hit on Long, and Lucas was convicted in September 2017 of pulling the trigger.

Gov. Moore told Smith: “I am deeply sorry for the fact that our justice system failed you not once, but our justice system failed you twice, and while no amount of money can make up for what was taken from you, the action this board is taking today represents a formal acknowledgment from the state for the injustice that was caused.”

The agreement that the Board approved provided for a total payment of $340,802.50, including $25,000 to attorneys representing Smith from Naftalis & Frankel LLP in Washington, D.C. It brought Smith a measure of relief that was then unavailable from the state’s wrongful conviction compensation fund. An amendment to that law, SB 14, passed in 2021 that expanded its application to those like him whose convictions were tossed without a court-­issued Writ of Actual Innocence (WOAI), which Smith lacked.

Another Naftalis & Frankel client, Anthony Hall, 60, got a WOAI in May 2023, clearing him in the fatal 1991 shooting of Gerard Dorsey. Based on the testimony of Gerald Patterson, an eyewitness who later recanted, Hall spent 27 years in prison before he was paroled. After discovery of exculpatory police interviews never turned over to his defense team, Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Charles J. Peters reversed Hall’s convictions and issued a WOAI.

“While the court’s recognition of Anthony’s innocence comes three decades too late, it is gratifying that the world now knows that he was innocent all along,” said attorney Barry Pollack of Harris St. Laurent & Wechsler LLP, which also worked on Hall’s case, along with the Mid-­Atlantic Innocence Project.  


Additional sources: Maryland Daily Record, National Registry of Exonerations, NPR News

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