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Baltimore man exonerated in 2004 murder after Innocence Project intervention

A Baltimore man has been exonerated in a 2004 murder after prosecutors admitted his conviction was based on a single witness who gave contradictory statements and that police developed another suspect but never told the defense.

David Morris, 36, is set to be freed from prison after the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office on Wednesday agreed that the evidence did not support pursuing a new trial against him.

“It is the state’s position that multiple pieces of credible, exculpating evidence support that Mr. Morris did not commit or participate in the murder on December 10, 2004,” said Lauren Lipscomb, who heads the office’s Conviction Integrity Unit.

Judge Charles Peters granted a writ of actual innocence at Wednesday’s hearing.

The Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and the University of Baltimore’s Innocence Project Clinic presented the case to the Conviction Integrity Unit of the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office as a possible wrongful conviction in 2018, according to filings in the case.

Morris was 19 when police arrested him in connection with the shooting death of Mustafa Carter in 2004.

Witnesses said that two people accosted the victim, 18-year-old Carter, near the intersection of Fulton Avenue and Mulberry Street. Three people were driving by in a vehicle when they heard shots, and the driver of the vehicle told police that he saw two suspects going through Carter’s pockets and leaving the scene.

That witness rode in the back seat of a Baltimore Police patrol car and, as they drove around, identified Morris as the shooter. Morris was knocking on the door of a house where his girlfriend lived — though the witness told police Morris should not be at the house because it was the witness’s grandmother’s house.

The same witness later told police that Morris was not the shooter, but was the other suspect present at the killing. At Morris’ trial, the witness said he never saw the faces of the two suspects.

Investigators with the Innocence Project and with the Conviction Integrity Unit also spoke with a woman who said that the witness left the courtroom after testifying at Morris’ trial and said, “Now that I see that man in there, I know it wasn’t him.”

Other evidence also pointed to Morris’ innocence: After Morris was arrested, police learned of another man who had allegedly bragged about committing the murder. The existence of another suspect was not disclosed to the defense or mentioned at Morris’ trial.

A juvenile witness also reported seeing suspects fleeing from the shooting in 2004, according to court documents, but no further follow-up took place. During the innocence investigation, the witness said that the person he saw police arrest was not one of the people who ran away from the crime scene.

And testing performed during the innocence investigation excluded Morris as a source of DNA recovered from Carter’s pants pockets, which the killers turned inside out after the shooting.

The DNA testing suggested that a woman was present — a notable finding since information provided by Carter’s family indicated that a woman may have been involved in the crime. That information is still being investigated, the State’s Attorney’s Office wrote in a filing.

The arresting officer in the case, Michael Nelson, also had a misconduct finding that should have been disclosed to the defense, the office said in a news release late Wednesday.

Nelson was later convicted of wire fraud in federal court and his name appears on a “do-not-call” list of officers with such serious credibility issues that they will not be called to testify in court.

Based on the evidence presented at trial, a jury found Morris guilty of felony murder. He was sentenced to life in prison with all but 50 years suspended.

Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said in a statement that the case is an example of prosecutors’ duty to right past wrongs.

“On behalf of the State, let me extend my sincerest apologies to Mr. Morris and his family for the unspeakable trauma inflicted upon him as a result of this wrongful conviction,” Mosby said. “To the family of Mr. Carter, we will continue to use everything in our arsenal to find your son’s killers.”

Morris appeared at Wednesday’s virtual court hearing from prison. He did not address the judge or have an opportunity to make a statement.

The hearing lasted only a few minutes. Peters concluded with a single sentence addressed to Morris.

“I’m sure it doesn’t mean much, sir, but Mr. Morris, good luck to you,” the judge said.