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Steven Dewitt

Other DC Cases
On May 13, 1991, Paul Ridley was shot fatally in the back of the head while filling up his car at a gas station in Washington, D.C.

Witnesses saw a red Acura pull up behind Ridley’s car and a tall, thin black man get out, walk up behind him and shoot him in the head. The man then got into the car and drove off.

One witness told the police that the car had white and blue temporary plates containing the digits “825” or “829.” Not long after, police pulled over 20-year-old Steven Dewitt, who was driving a red Acura with temporary plates. Although Dewitt’s temporary plates were white and red, and did not include the digits seen by the eyewitness, police interrogated Dewitt and his passengers.

After being threatened and abused by police, one of Dewitt’s passengers told the police that Dewitt had killed the victim.

Two days after the shooting, eyewitness Rufus Pace view a photo lineup. He selected DeWitt’s photograph and one other person in the photo array as resembling the shooter.

On May 15, 1991, eyewitness Mildred Greene, the cashier at the gas station where Ridley was shot picked DeWitt’s photo from a photo array. On May 23, 1991, Pace selected DeWitt from a line-up in which Dewitt stood out because he along was ordered by the police to wear a shirt that matched the one the killer had worn.

In January 1992, Dewitt went to trial in District of Columbia Superior Court. Greene testified that she looked “right into [the] face” of the gunman. She identified Dewitt at the gunman. Pace also identified Dewitt as the gunman.

A police officer also testified falsely that a witness had seen a plate with digits matching Dewitt’s.

On January 15, 1992, a jury convicted Dewitt of second-degree murder and a gun charge and he was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

In 2002, after an extensive investigation, Dewitt’s pro-bono attorneys discovered that the prosecution had concealed several items of exculpatory evidence. The suppressed evidence included the witness who had described the murder car as having temporary tags that were inconsistent with those on Dewitt’s car. More significantly, the evidence showed that police had made a traffic stop of an alternative suspect – Samuel Carson, a known gang member, who was driving a red Acura with temporary tags ending in “829.” Carson, who ultimately would be convicted of committing multiple murders, knew Ridley. Evidence showed that Ridley was scheduled to testify in court against an associate of Carson's.

At an evidentiary hearing, witnesses John Smith, James Montgomery, and Douglas Eatmon that they either saw Carson shoot Ridley, heard Carson admit to the shooting, or heard an associate of Carson say that Carson did the shooting.

In December 2004, acting under the D.C. Innocence Protection Act of 2001, District of Columbia Superior Court judge Franklin Burgess issued a 94-page ruling declaring Dewitt innocent.

Judge Burgess said, “If the jury concluded that the car had blue and white temporary tags, Dewitt could not be guilty of the offense.”

On December 24, 2004, Dewitt was released from prison. On February 22, 2006, the prosecution dismissed the charges.

Dewitt filed a state court lawsuit seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2012.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date:  Before June 2012
Last Updated: 8/31/2021
State:District of Columbia
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Gun Possession or Sale
Reported Crime Date:1991
Sentence:15 to Life
Age at the date of reported crime:20
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No