Feb 4, 2002
After spending half his life in
prison for a murder he did not commit, Michael Austin’s conviction was overturned at the end of December. A Baltimore City Circuit Court judge found that his trial was "seriously plagued" by multiple problems. The judge added that no reasonable juror armed with the facts known today would have convicted Austin. Nonetheless, it took the states attorney another week before she finally decided not to retry the case.
In 1974, Austin was convicted of killing a security guard at the Crown Food Market in East Baltimore. The arrest was based on faulty identification by a store clerk. The store clerk originally described the shooter as a light-skinned black man, about 5'8" and 150 pounds. Austin was 6'5", dark skinned and 200 pounds. Nonetheless, the clerk pointed Austin out in court. In fact, he was the main witness in the case. The prosecutor introduced him as an “upstanding college student,” when, in fact, he was a drug dealer who had a lengthy criminal record.
Before dying of an overdose, the clerk confessed to his family that he had lied when he picked out Austin.
Austin's lawyer, who was not given the case until the actual day of trial, never submitted crucial evidence – a
time-card and statement from Austin's employer, which would have supported his testimony that he was at work the day of the killing. The judge, who issued faulty instructions to the jury, sentenced Austin to life in prison.
It took tremendous persistence for Austin to win his freedom, coming first from Michael Austin himself, who got his high-school degree in prison while attempting to expose the facts of his case. Finally Centurion Ministries, a private group that provides legal help to the wrongfully convicted, took up his case in 1994 and then pursued it for five years. Eventually, the victim’s widow spoke out in his defense and the clerk’s family came forward with his confession.
Currently Austin plans to get a job as a construction worker and wants to work with incarcerated youth. But Austin does not accept that full justice has been done, raising that there are still unresolved issues. To this day, neither the judge nor the states attorney has admitted him innocent. Nor has he received a penny in compensation.