By BRIAN WITTE
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A man wrongly convicted of two separate violent crimes will be compensated by the state of Maryland after spending years behind bars, including over a year after he had been proven innocent.
A Maryland board approved more than $340,000 for a settlement on Wednesday in compensation for Demetrius Smith who was wrongly convicted of murder and first-degree assault and spent more than five years in prison.
Gov. Wes Moore, who chairs the three-member Board of Public Works, apologized to Smith before the board approved the settlement, noting that it’s been more than a decade since his release in 2013.
“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 told Smith, who attended the hearing in person.
Smith was 25 in 2008 when he was wrongfully charged with murder.
Gov. Moore noted that at Smith’s bail hearing, the judge said the case before him was “probably the thinnest case” he had ever seen. But, Moore said, “the prosecution was determined to press forward, 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 arrest, while on bail, Smith was arrested and taken into custody for first-degree assault. Once again, the prosecution relied on witnesses who later recanted their testimony, the governor said.
In 2010, Smith was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, plus 18 years. In 2011, he entered an Alford plea for the assault charge, maintaining his innocence. Moore said Smith entered the plea after losing faith in the criminal justice system. Under an Alford plea, the defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges the likelihood of a conviction if the case went to trial.
In 2011, the Maryland U.S. attorney’s office charged the person who was actually responsible for the murder, and Smith’s innocence was proven. But he still spent another year and a half in prison, the governor said. It wasn’t until 2012 that the state finally dropped the murder conviction.
In May 2013, Smith petitioned the court to revisit his Alford plea for the assault charge, and his sentence was modified to time served, plus three years probation, which was later reduced to probation.
“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,” Moore told Smith.