The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Wrong man imprisoned:
Justice delayed is justice permanently denied

Apr 15, 2002

State prosecutors in Baltimore have been forced to admit they imprisoned the wrong man for a murder in 1992. Another man recently pled guilty and has now been imprisoned. Henry Roberts, the man falsely convicted of the murder and sentenced to 50 years in 1992, always asserted his innocence.

In 1992, prosecutors charged that Roberts, a 63-year-old retired steelworker, had shot and killed his 21-year-old nephew. The nephew had been spending the night with Roberts to try to prevent any more burglaries at Roberts’ house. Prosecutors claimed that after shooting his nephew, Roberts then shot and critically wounded himself. Prosecutors also claimed that despite serious wounds, Roberts had somehow managed to throw the murder gun into the creek behind his house.

Police based their case against Roberts on conflicting statements he made in the days immediately following the murder, when he was in a hospital under heavy medication recovering from his own wound. A nurse said she heard something that sounded like a confession.

After Roberts was convicted, police got an anonymous telephone tip naming the man who has now been imprisoned for breaking into Roberts’ house, shooting Roberts and then murdering Roberts’ nephew. Police now admit they got this telephone call. But at the time they did nothing about it.

Once the police and prosecutors put Roberts away, as shaky as their case against him was, they weren’t interested in admitting they had been wrong the first time. If it had not been for the fact that the guilty man admitted the murder and provided corroborating evidence, this never would have come to light.

Baltimore’s current chief prosecutor, State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy, recently commented on the case, “Sometimes justice is delayed.”

In this case, a delay was the same as a death sentence. Henry Roberts died in prison in 1996.