On Friday, February 21, 2014, the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project (MAIP) celebrated its first victory of 2014! MAIP and Steptoe & Johnson LLP client Sabein Burgess walked out the front door of the Baltimore City Circuit Court a free man after spending nearly 20 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. This marks MAIP’s first victory in 2014 and fifth victory in the past 11 months!
Mr. Burgess was convicted of murdering his girlfriend based solely on gunshot residue (GSR) testimony by a Baltimore City Police Department examiner. Although Mr. Burgess professed his innocence from the beginning, the purportedly solid scientific evidence eclipsed his protestations. However, MAIP and Steptoe ultimately determined that based on new research about GSR evidence, the testimony linking him to the crime was not scientifically sound and would not even be admissible today. In addition, the real perpetrator independently confessed to the crime and has been doing so for nearly 15 years, and the victim’s then six-year-old son independently came forward to say that he saw his mother’s killers enter the home and that Mr. Burgess was not one of them.
In December of last year, Steptoe and MAIP filed a Petition for a Writ of Actual Innocence with the Baltimore City Circuit Court. The Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office has agreed that Mr. Burgess satisfies the necessary requirements of the statute and is entitled to a new trial. Today, Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Charles Peters signed a consent order granting a new trial, and the State’s Attorney nol prossed the charges, thus ending Mr.Burgess’s 20-year saga.
“We are thrilled that the state has acknowledged the power of our evidence and that Mr.Burgess finally is going home to his family,” said Roger Yoerges, the Steptoe partner who represented Mr. Burgess along with MAIP.
Flawed forensic science testimony has been a factor in more than half of the DNA exonerations nationwide and in more than 20 percent of all exonerations nationwide. Mr.Burgess is the second Maryland exoneree who was wrongfully convicted based on flawed GSR evidence.
“Mr. Burgess’s case proves once again the need for rigorous standards for the admission of scientific testimony,” said Shawn Armbrust, MAIP’s Executive Director. ”We hope that the creation of the National Commission on Forensic Science will help alleviate problems like this in the future, and we are pleased that there is a remedy in Maryland to address past mistakes.”
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