What led to their 1983 conviction in connection with the murder of 14-year-old DeWitt Duckett included police corruption and suppression of evidence. In fact, some of the evidence that was eventually erased was sealed in an envelope bearing the threat tag, “Police emergency only: Do not open for any reason.”

Some of the circumstances surrounding this horrific injustice included three witnesses who said the killer was someone else – a man who has since died – and none of them recognized any of the three accused from the photos. Moreover, all the witnesses were questioned without informing either of their parents or guardians.

When they were released, the three men were smiling and happy to get out. However, it was simply because of all the hardships of the past 36 years behind bars that led to this moment.

“We’ve been through hell,” Watkins said afterwards.

“I just sat on my bed when I got the information and cried,” Stewart said. “I didn’t know how to stop crying.”

At the time of Duckett’s death, Stewart was 17 years old while Watkins and Chestnut were 16. They were convicted in part because Duckett was killed by his jacket, and Chestnut had a similar jacket in his room.

The fact that the jacket had been purchased by Chestnut’s mother and had a receipt given by me on the spot was apparently not material to the case.

In addition, the three had teachers who assured them that they were students who were not a threat, but that also did not stop them from being arrested at Thanksgiving and eventually convicted of these crimes. They were sentenced to life imprisonment.

It is indeed disturbing how appalling conditions are in so many of our prisons, but for three people to live this for decades when they did not even commit the crime that sent them there, it is frightening. This pressure for convictions when not supported by evidence led to the destruction of many lives.

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