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Gary Washington

Other Baltimore City Exonerations
On December 27, 1986, 17-year-old Fareem Ali was fatally shot on the street in East Baltimore, Maryland. Less than two weeks later, police arrested 25-year-old Gary Washington, accusing him of shooting Ali during a dispute over drugs.

After his arrest, Washington told his defense attorney that the gunman was Lawrence Thomas, and that Thomas and Ali were arguing about drugs. Thomas struck Ali in the face and the gun went off. Ali was shot in the head.

In June 1987, Washington went to trial in Baltimore City Circuit Court. The prosecution’s key witness was 12-year-old Otis Robinson, who testified that he saw Washington shoot Ali.

There was no physical evidence linking Washington to the murder. The gun was never recovered. A single .38-caliber bullet removed from Ali’s head was the only physical evidence presented to the jury.

Washington’s defense attorney called several witnesses who testified that Washington was not the gunman. Sheila Brady and Tangela Washington testified that they were inside Washington’s home with him at the time of the shooting. Both women said the gunman was Lawrence Thomas, who was in the home with them and Washington but left shortly before the shooting. Brady testified that Washington and Thomas bore a strong resemblance to each other.

Ronald Brady testified that he and Thomas were both inside Washington’s home just prior to the shooting and they walked outside together. As they emerged, Ali came across the street and confronted Thomas. During this confrontation, Brady said, Thomas shot Ali in the head. Brady also testified that Thomas was his friend and that he hadn’t come forward earlier because Thomas had told him he would turn himself in. Brady said he was testifying for the defense because Thomas had not turned himself in. During cross-examination, the prosecutor was allowed to bring Thomas into the courtroom to stand next to Washington. Brady identified Thomas as the gunman.

Nathaniel Oliver, an employee at a grocery store who lived near Washington, testified that he saw the shooting as he was walking up an alley. Oliver said he saw Thomas, whom he knew by the nickname “20th Street,” arguing with Ali. The argument ended when Ali was shot. Oliver also testified that he saw Washington look out the door of his home shortly after Ali fell to the ground. Oliver identified Thomas as “20th Street” based on a photo array shown to him while he was on the witness stand.

Asked why he did not report what he saw earlier, Oliver said it would have been “snitching.”

Washington testified that he was inside his house with other people at the time of the shooting. He said Thomas had been inside with them just prior to the shooting, and that Thomas left just before the victim was shot.

On June 16, 1987, the jury convicted Washington of first-degree murder and use of a weapon in the commission of a crime. He was sentenced to life in prison.

In November 1988, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld the convictions. Washington filed a petition for post-conviction relief in February 1997. During a hearing on the petition in December 1999, Robinson recanted his identification of Washington as the gunman. He said he initially recanted in a statement in 1996 to an investigator for Washington.

Robinson said he falsely identified Washington after police threatened to arrest him on some unspecified charge. He said he was afraid that he would not be allowed to go home unless he picked someone out of a photo array.

Four days after Robinson testified, Circuit Court Judge Allen Schwait denied Washington’s petition for a new trial. The judge said that Robinson’s claim that police coerced him was not credible.

In 2002, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld that ruling.

Later that year, Washington filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus claiming his defense lawyer provided an inadequate legal defense. The petition said that his trial lawyer had a conflict of interest because he had represented Thomas when Thomas pled guilty to a drug charge not long after Washington was arrested. As a result, Washington claimed, his attorney had not presented Thomas as a witness at Washington’s trial.

In 2005, U.S. District Judge William Quarles Jr. dismissed the petition. He ruled that if the defense attorney had called Thomas as a witness, he likely would have denied he was the gunman. That testimony would have contradicted the other defense witnesses, and therefore Washington had not been adversely affected by the lawyer’s relationship to Thomas.

In 2013, attorney Robert Biddle began re-investigating the case and ultimately was granted a hearing in 2017. Robinson again testified that he had falsely identified Washington as the gunman. He said one detective yelled at him and threatened to charge him with a crime.

Robinson said he was afraid and ultimately identified Washington because he was “under the impression I ain’t leaving till I pick someone out of these pictures.”

Also testifying at the hearing was Norman Tyrone Cook, a prison inmate. Cook said that he was in the Baltimore City Jail in 1988, and Thomas admitted to him that he—not Washington—shot Ali.

Steven Reynolds, a bank vice president and an elder of the Emmanuel Church International in Gwynn Oaks, Maryland, testified that in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he was in training to be a minister. Reynolds had known Thomas since they were teenagers. While in training, Reynolds drove Thomas to church on one occasion. Druing the drive, Thomas confessed that he attempted to hit Ali with the gun and it went off accidentally.

In August 2018, Circuit Court Judge Charles Peters vacated Washington’s convictions and ordered a new trial. “For all intents and purposes, Otis Robinson was the State’s entire case,” Judge Peters wrote. “No other witness corroborated Robinson’s testimony…(Washington) did not confess and there was no DNA or fingerprint evidence introduced, or any other forensic evidence introduced, corroborating Robinson’s trial testimony.”

The judge noted that Robinson had recanted three times—initially to Washington’s defense investigator when he was a teenager, at the 1999 hearing when he was 24 years old and in 2017 when he was 42 years old. “The Court is left with the inescapable conclusion that multiple recantations of the uncorroborated testimony by the sole eyewitness in (Washington’s) case have to create a substantial possibility of a different result.”

On January 15, 2019, the prosecution dismissed the charges and Washington was released after spending more than 31 years in prison.

In August 2019, Washington filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction. He also filed for state compensation. Maryland's Board of Public Works approved paying Washington $3 million on May 1, 2024.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/16/2019
Last Updated: 5/1/2024
County:Baltimore City
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:1986
Age at the date of reported crime:25
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No