Michael Damien, Joseph Wayne Eastridge and Joseph Nick Sousa
|Date / Location:||November 1974, Washington D.C.||Conviction:||Murder|
|Year of Conviction:||1976||Release Date:||May-05|
|Sentence:||Life||Sentence Served:||20 for Damien and Sousa, 30 for Eastridge|
|Real perpetrator found?:||Yes||Contributing cause to wrongful conviction:||Incentivized testimony|
Thirty years after they were wrongfully convicted of a murder they had no involvement in, Michael Damien, Nick Sousa and Wayne Eastridge had their sentences vacated thanks to a long investigation by Centurion Ministries .
In November 1974, the three men were leaving a birthday party at a bar in Washington D.C. with other guests when an altercation started with three other men. Minutes later, as the men headed back to their vehicles, two of the three other men returned and one of them shot a member of Damien, Sousa and Eastridge’s group.
Upon hearing gunshots, Sousa got into his car and drove away while Damien and Eastridge attempted to leave the scene on foot. Four members of the men’s group chased after the shooter, Johnnie Battle, and stabbed him to death in retaliation for shooting their friend. All of the men fled the scene before police could arrive.
Sousa eventually saw Damien and Eastridge and picked them up, also picking up Steve Jones, who had been a member of their party. What the three men did not know was that Jones was one of the four men to chase and stab Battle. Sousa also did not know the area of Washington D.C. and eventually ended up back at the bar they had just hastily left.
Back at the scene of the crime, all four men were questioned by police. Because Jones had blood on his clothes, all four men were immediately identified as suspects. The police searched Sousa’s car and uncovered a couple of old knives.
Still, police did not have enough evidence to convict the men until seven months later, when Sousa’s ex-girlfriend Dorothy Willetts told police that Both Sousa and Eastridge had confessed to committing the crime on multiple occasions. She never said anything about Damien allegedly confessing, but he was also charged and convicted for the murder.
In 1989, Centurion Ministries Investigator Kate Germond began reinvestigating the case. For the next fifteen years Germond tracked down and interviewed a large number of people with knowledge about the night. Germond discovered that Willetts had made up the story after a bitter breakup with Sousa. Germond received statement’s from nearly all of the witnesses that were allegedly present during these confessions and they each confirmed that Willetts had made them up.
Steve Jones, who had also maintained his innocence all along, eventually confessed to his involvement in the crime and named the three other men who had actually chased down and killed Battle. Using this information, Germond spoke with other people who were there that night, each of whom confirmed Jones’ statement.
Centurion turned the case over to a legal team which included lawyers from Wilmer Hale. In 2005, U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer vacated their sentences and prosecutors agreed not to retry the men. Sadly Damien, who had been released on parole in 1995, passed away after suffering a heart attack months before his name was cleared.