Judge Overturns Murder Conviction
BALTIMORE (AP) _ A judge overturned the murder conviction of a man imprisoned 27 years in the death of a convenience store security guard, finding grave errors by virtually everyone involved in the trial.
Bail was set at $10,000 Friday for Michael Austin, 53, who did not attend the hearing.
Yvonne Rahman, 56, a teacher who worked with Austin in prison and has offered to house him after his release, said two peach cobblers were waiting for Austin in her home freezer. ``He’s been talking about it for five years,″ she said of the cobblers.
Deputy State’s Attorney Sharon May said prosecutors would decide whether to appeal, drop the charges or proceed with a new trial after New Year’s Day.
Circuit Judge John Carroll Byrnes wrote in his decision Thursday that Austin’s trial ``was plagued by multiple problems which, cumulatively, present the inescapable conclusion that he was denied a fair trial.″
Austin was convicted in the 1974 shooting death of Roy Kellam at an east Baltimore market.
Centurion Ministries, a New Jersey-based group that seeks to exonerate those wrongly convicted, found that prosecutors failed to tell the jury that the man presented to them as Austin’s accomplice was freed after police admitted they had the wrong man.
``I can’t imagine spending a day in prison, let alone 27 years, for something I didn’t do,″ said James McCloskey, the ministries’ executive director.
The only physical evidence against Austin was a wallet card with the alleged accomplice’s name scribbled on it. Byrnes ruled that was no evidence at all.
Byrnes also said Austin’s trial judge gave faulty jury instructions and that the prosecutor erred. He said the defense attorney, who has since died, was unaware of the case until the day of trial and didn’t subpoena key evidence and witnesses.
The victim’s widow, Alviera Kellam, said she supports the judge’s decision and hopes Austin is freed.
``There’s so much evidence that it wasn’t him, and it doesn’t look like there was any that says it was him,″ she said. ``I feel sorry for him. I hope it’s over now.″
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