In May 1991, a man was shot and killed while filling up his car at a gas station in Washington, D.C. Witnesses saw a red Acura pull up behind the victim’s car and a tall, thin black man get out of the car and shoot the victim. One witness told the police that the car had white and blue temporary plates containing the digits “825” or “829.” Police pulled over 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. The witnesses to the shooting were unable to identify Dewitt in a photo lineup, but did identify Dewitt at an in-person lineup in which Dewitt stood out from the other subjects because he alone was ordered by the police to wear a shirt that matched the one the killer had worn. The witnesses later identified Dewitt at trial, but none of them could do so with certainty. A police officer also testified falsely that a witness had seen a plate with digits matching Dewitt’s. In 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, and evidence of 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.” In addition, several other witnesses said that Carson had bragged about the murder.
In December 2004, acting under the D.C. Innocence Protection Act of 2001, a D.C. Superior Court judge found Dewitt innocent of all charges. He was released on Christmas Eve 2004.
- Stephanie Denzel