|Date / Location:||1991, Washington D.C.||Conviction:||Murder, armed robbery|
|Year of Conviction:||1991||Release Date:||February 2, 2010|
|Sentence:||life||Sentence Served:||18 Years|
|Real perpetrator found?:||Yes||Contributing cause to wrongful conviction:||Incentivized snitch testimony, police misconduct|
After serving more than 18 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, D.C. native Edward Bell has been released from prison after MAIP and co-counsel at Venable LLP uncovered evidence of his innocence and negotiated a deal with prosecutors to set him free.
Mr. Bell was convicted of being one of four assailants in a 1991 murder and armed robbery. The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) quickly arrested three of the assailants after multiple eyewitnesses at the scene immediately identified them.
Four months after the murder was committed, one of the eyewitnesses changed his initial version of the story, naming Mr. Bell as the fourth assailant. This man was facing 30 years behind bars for a pair of drug distribution charges. In exchange for his testimony against Mr. Bell, one of those charges was dropped, and he was sentenced to seven months on the other charge. Incentivized snitch testimony is one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions. This witness’s testimony was the only evidence against Mr. Bell, and it contradicted the testimony of other witnesses who were at the scene. Nevertheless, Mr. Bell was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Mr. Bell has always maintained his innocence and continued fighting after he was convicted. A few years after his conviction, the government eyewitness recanted his testimony and has steadfastly maintained that he felt pressured into naming Mr. Bell. Unfortunately, that evidence was not enough to persuade a judge to grant Mr. Bell a new trial.
Then, while Mr. Bell was incarcerated, a new witness came forward and named the real fourth assailant in the crime. This witness’s testimony matches much more closely with the testimony provided by the government’s other eyewitnesses in the case (those who did not name Mr. Bell). He also filed a Freedom of Information Act request and obtained information about another witness at the scene whose testimony also contradicted that of the lone government witness against him.
Based on this new witness, Mr. Bell filed a petition on his own under the Innocence Protection Act. Judge A. Franklin Burgess granted him a hearing and appointed both an attorney, Patricia Newton, and an investigator, Ronetta Johnson. Ms. Johnson, who knew of MAIP because of her work on the Aaron Michael Howard case, contacted MAIP Executive Director Shawn Armbrust and asked MAIP to get involved in the case. MAIP became persuaded of Mr. Bell’s innocence and, with the help of MAIP Board member Seth Rosenthal, recruited Paul Kemp and Sigmund Lebowitz from his firm, Venable LLP, to serve as co-counsel.
The legal team uncovered other evidence (including compelling alibi witnesses for Mr. Bell) that supported the innocence claim. In addition, they were able to obtain further evidence that had been withheld from Mr. Bell by the government.
Shortly before the Innocence Protect Act hearing was scheduled, the United States Attorney’s Office initiated conversation with the legal team about a deal. They offered to release Mr. Bell in exchange for a plea to voluntary manslaughter while armed and a sentence of time served, allowing him to maintain his innocence on the record despite the plea. Presented with the opportunity to win his freedom after nearly two decades behind bars, Mr. Bell and his legal team agreed to accept the deal.
On February 2, 2010, Judge Burgess accepted the plea agreement and Mr. Bell was released from jail in March 2010. He is currently back in Washington D.C. and looking for work.