Kevin Baker and Sean Washington, now 48, were released after attorneys discovered evidence leading to their innocence, leading a court to throw out their convictions last year. Camden County prosecutors then announced this month they would not retry the case.
NJ.com captured these men walking out of New Jersey State Prison on Wednesday to members and supporters.
“Finally! Finally!” Baker said as he hugged Lesley Risigner, director of the Last Resort Exoneration Project at Seton Hall Law School that first took up the men’s case nine years ago.
“Elated, excited, happy,” Washington said to the camera. “Happy for my family, man, it’s been a long journey for my family.”
Contacted by phone Thursday, Baker said the two of them celebrated with a pizza party and then got straight to work building a new life: opening bank accounts, getting IDs, searching for housing.
He said yes, of course, he’s bitter toward the people who let his conviction happen, adding: “It shouldn’t have been this hard to get out.”
But, he said, he’s trying to channel that energy in a positive direction.
“Actually holding a grudge against an individual person, it’s not something I can use,” he said. “There’s no energy in it. I’m angry, but anger in a good way. It’s a motivating anger.”
Baker and Washington were accused of killing Rodney Turner, then 35, and Margaret Wilson, 40, outside Camden’s Roosevelt Manor Apartments, in 1995.
After a two-day trial the following year, they were sentenced to life in prison.
The government’s case relied on a single eyewitness: a woman who was high on crack cocaine when she claims she saw the men flee the scene of the shooting.
Recently discovered ballistics evidence and a 9-1-1 recording from the night of the incident, however, cast serious doubt on her recollection of events.
After years of legal jockeying by Risigner and other attorneys, a three-judge appellate panel tossed the convictions in late December, saying the new evidence “powerfully undermines” the woman’s account.
The men may now be eligible to sue New Jersey for more than $1 million under a wrongful imprisonment compensation law.
That statute provides up to $50,000 for each year of incarceration, provided the person suing can demonstrate their innocence “by clear and convincing evidence.”