ANNAPOLIS (Sept. 20, 2023)—Gov. Wes Moore apologized Wednesday, Sept. 18, to a Baltimore man who was wrongfully imprisoned on an erroneous murder conviction after the man was awarded more than $300,000 in compensation by the Board of Public Works.
"I am deeply sorry for the fact that our justice system failed you not once, but our justice system failed you twice," Moore said to Demetrius Smith. "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 room erupted and most of the audience stood with Moore to applaud Smith.
The total compensation comes to $340,802, including legal fees and housing accommodations. The compensation is equal to the number of days that Smith was wrongfully confined multiplied by the daily rate of Maryland's most recent annual median household income. The total also includes $25,000 in legal fees and $89,100 toward housing.
"Mr. Smith is extremely pleased with the outcome of his Walter Lomax case," Smith's attorney Ralph Mayrell said. "He was wronged by the state twice over, convicted for crimes he didn't commit and he's waited many years to finally get some form of compensation from the state."
It was a long road for Smith to win the consideration.
In 2008, then 25-year-old Smith was charged with the murder of Robert Long. During Smith's bail hearing the judge noted that the case against him was "probably the thinnest case I have ever seen," Moore told the BPW audience.
Less than two months after the arrest, Smith was out on bail awaiting trial when he was arrested for a first-degree assault. According to Moore, the prosecution in both the assault and murder cases relied on witnesses who recanted their testimony.
In 2010, Smith was sentenced to life in prison plus 18 years for first-degree murder. A year later, Smith entered an Alford plea for the charge of first-degree assault. An Alford plea acknowledges that the prosecution has enough evidence to achieve a conviction, but maintains the defendant's innocence.
While continuing to maintain his innocence in both crimes, Moore said, Smith had lost faith in the justice system. For the assault charge, Smith was sentenced to 10 years, served concurrent to his life sentence.
In 2011, the U.S. Attorney's Office found information showing another man was responsible for the murder.
Then in 2012, the state dropped the murder conviction against Smith and Smith later petitioned the court to revisit the assault case. The prosecutor altered Smith's sentence to time served plus three years probation. When evidence came out that a witness in the assault case was not telling the truth, Smith's sentence was reduced to probation before judgment. Smith was released from prison after five years.
In 2021, Smith applied for compensation through the Walter Lomax Act, which also passed in 2021. The act is named for Walter Lomax who spent 39 years in prison for a series of robberies he did not commit. Since its passage, the state has paid $5.7 million in compensation and attorney's fees to 10 wrongfully convicted individuals, including Smith.
Administrative Law Judge Edward J. Kelley ruled Smith was eligible for compensation, but not entitled to it because he was also serving a sentence for the assault. That decision was upheld by Baltimore Circuit Judge Gregory Sampson. Smith appealed the decision to the Appellate Court of Maryland in February 2023, but the BPW awarded the funds in lieu of that case.
"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," Moore said. "An apology from the state of Maryland that until today, he's never received."
"We are deeply sorry for what happened," Moore said. "And look forward to the continued contribution that you are going to continue making to our society."