In 1987, a 64-year-old woman was murdered in Maryland, but the case went cold. Fourteen years later, Jonathan Smith was convicted and sentenced to life for the crime, even though no physical evidence linked him or his two co-defendants to it.
This week, after spending nearly 21 years in prison, they finally freed Smith. He entered a conditional Alford plea, a type of plea that allows him to maintain his innocence and preserves his right to appeal his conviction and judgment. This plea allowed Jonathan to walk into the waiting arms of his sons while also expressly maintaining his innocence, as he has for decades.
They sentenced Jonathan to life in prison in 2001 after a witness came forward — 13 years after the crime in response to a reward — and falsely claimed they had seen three young men near the scene of the crime.
It wasn’t until 2011 that lawyers from the Innocence Project and the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project could access recorded conversations between the witness and police, in which the witness demanded that the State dismiss drug charges against her grandson in exchange for her testimony against Jonathan and his co-defendant David Faulkner. The police obliged.
Still, Jonathan remained in prison and maintained his innocence.
In 2014, the State acknowledged that prints from the crime scene had been matched to another person in their database. It took another year before they revealed his identity — a man who had previously served prison time for a burglary in which they alleged him to have assaulted an elderly woman just months before the crime for which Jonathan was convicted. It wasn’t until recently that the Maryland Court of Appeals unanimously reversed Jonathan and David’s convictions and granted them Writs of Actual Innocence based on the new palm print evidence and the wealth of exculpatory evidence that prosecutors hid from the defense.