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Kenneth McPherson

Other Baltimore CIU Exonerations
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At about 12:30 a.m. on August 31, 1994, 21-year-old Anthony Wooden was fatally shot on the street in East Baltimore, Maryland. A week later, police arrested several suspects, including two brothers, 20-year-old Kenneth McPherson and 24-year-old Eric Simmons.

Also arrested were 20-year-old Nicholas Richards, 18-year-old Daniel Ellison, and 13-year-old Marcus King.

Police said a neighbor, Diane Bailey, identified them as being involved in the crime. She said that from her third-story window, she saw the shooting occur at the intersection of Washington and Oliver Streets. Police later estimated that a dozen shots were fired. A revolver with six spent casings in the cylinder was on the ground next to Wooden.

King was questioned by detectives and said that he was on Chapel Street, which ran parallel to Washington Street and was one street to the west. He said he was in a large gathering of people who were listening to music, including McPherson, when they heard gunshots and scattered into nearby homes. He said he saw Simmons a short while later run from Chapel Street looking for McPherson to make sure his brother was safe.

King said that Ellison had admitted to him in the days after the shooting that he witnessed Richards and two others kill Wooden because they were looking for someone to rob and he fired a gun at them, so they fired back.

Detectives refused to accept King’s account, given while he was handcuffed to a chair in the police station. Detectives said he would be charged with murder as a juvenile. Finally, with one detective standing on a desk yelling at him as well as his mother urging him to “tell the truth,” King implicated himself and the others.

In a tape-recorded statement, King said that he was with Ellison, Richards, McPherson, and Simmons when Ellison said he saw people who were going to try to stick someone up. McPherson yelled for King to go get guns, so King said he went to a nearby house and retrieved two handguns for Ellison and Richards. He said McPherson and Simmons were there and already had handguns. As they started to follow Wooden down the street, King said, Wooden pulled a gun out of a bag and started shooting. During the ensuing gun battle, Wooden was shot in the back and then fatally shot in the head.

In May 1995, Richards, McPherson, and Simmons went to trial in Baltimore City Circuit Court. By that time, Ellison had pled guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Bailey testified that she saw McPherson, Simmons, Ellison, Richards, and King on the street and that they were involved in the shooting. Evidence showed that she had been moved into her residence and the police were paying her rent because she had been a cooperating witness in an unrelated case. Since the shooting, she had been moved to a different location and the police were still paying her rent.

King was called to testify and recanted his statement implicating McPherson and Simmon. He again implicated Richards and Ellison. It was not his first recantation—he had recanted prior to the trial during juvenile court proceedings, during psychological evaluations, and to a social worker who had interviewed him in juvenile court.

The prosecution called the detective who had interrogated King and he played the recording for the jury.

Simmons’s mother testified for the defense that Simmons was asleep at home at the time of the shooting. She knew McPherson was out, so she asked Simmons’s girlfriend to wake him to check on McPherson. She said Simmons left the house in shorts, but no shirt. McPherson testified that he was on Chapel Street at the time of the shooting. Three witnesses also testified they saw him there when the shots were fired. One of McPherson’s alibi witnesses also testified that she was with McPherson when Simmons arrived and said he had been sent by their mother to check on him. The witness said Simmons was wearing shorts and was shirtless.

On May 18, 1995, the jury convicted McPherson, Simmons, and Richards of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. McPherson and Simmons were sentenced to life in prison. Richards was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Over the next two decades, McPherson and Simmons filed numerous appeals and post-conviction petitions. All were denied.

In 2018, McPherson and Simmons, acting without a lawyer, filed a request with the Conviction Integrity Unit of the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office asking for a review of their case. In December 2018, a re-investigation began. In February 2019, Frances Walters, attorney at the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project agreed to represent McPherson. The following month, Brianna Ford, deputy director of the University of Baltimore School of Law Innocence Project Clinic, began representing Simmons.

On May 1, 2019, Lauren Lipscomb, chief of the Conviction Integrity Unit, as well as Ford and Walters, presented a joint petition to vacate the convictions and for a writ of actual innocence.

The petition said that at the time of the murders, three witnesses said the shooting occurred at the intersection of Washington and Federal Streets—a block north at the intersection of Washington and Oliver Streets, where Bailey, the prosecution’s eyewitness, said it occurred. While the names of two of those three witnesses were disclosed by the prosecution before the trial, their statements about the true location of the shooting were not disclosed. The third witness and that witness’s statement were also not disclosed.

The petition concluded that Bailey could not have seen the shooting as she claimed. The location of the shooting a block further north than Bailey claimed it occurred was out of her line of sight.

The prosecution also interviewed Simmons’s girlfriend, whom the defense did not call at the trial. She confirmed that Simmons’s mother asked her to wake Simmons and send him out to check on McPherson. Two more witnesses who were on Chapel Street were located for the first time. They also confirmed that McPherson was among 20 to 30 people who were socializing there when the shots were fired.

The petition also said that a witness who was present at the time of the shooting was interviewed and said that neither McPherson nor Simmons was involved.

On May 3, 2019, the petition was granted and the convictions were vacated. The charges were dismissed, and McPherson and Simmons were released, more than 24 years after their arrest. With the writs of actual innocence, they qualified for compensation from the state of Maryland.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/7/2019
State:Maryland
County:Baltimore City
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1994
Convicted:1995
Exonerated:2019
Sentence:Life
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:20
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No