Cleared of murder, Camden men walk free after 25 years in prison

Kevin Baker and Sean Washington, now 48, were released after attorneys uncovered evidence pointing to their innocence. (Courtesy of NJTV)

Kevin Baker and Sean Washington, now 48, were released after attorneys uncovered evidence pointing to their innocence. (Courtesy of NJTV)

Two Camden men walked free this week after serving 25 years in prison for a double murder they say they didn’t commit.

Kevin Baker and Sean Washington, now 48, were released after attorneys uncovered evidence pointing to their innocence, leading a court to toss their convictions last year. Camden County prosecutors then announced this month they would not retry the case.

In a moment captured on video by NJ.com, the men walk out of New Jersey State Prison on Wednesday into the embrace of family members and supporters.

“Finally! Finally!” Baker said as he hugged Lesley Risigner, director of the Last Resort Exoneration Project at Seton Hall Law School that first took up the men’s case nine years ago.

“Elated, excited, happy,” Washington said to the camera. “Happy for my family, man, it’s been a long journey for my family.”

Reached by phone Thursday, Baker said the pair celebrated with a pizza party and then got straight to work building a new life: opening bank accounts, getting IDs, searching for housing.

He said yes, of course, he’s bitter toward the people who let his conviction happen, adding: “It shouldn’t have been this hard to get out.”

But, he said, he’s trying to channel that energy in a positive direction.

“Actually holding a grudge against an individual person, it’s not something I can use,” he said. “There’s no energy in it. I’m angry, but anger in a good way. It’s a motivating anger.”

Back in 1995, Baker and Washington were accused of killing Rodney Turner, then 35, and Margaret Wilson, 40, outside Camden’s Roosevelt Manor Apartments.

Following a two-day trial the following year, they were sentenced to life in prison.

The government’s case relied on a single eyewitness: a woman who was high on crack cocaine when she claims she saw the men flee the scene of the shooting.

Recently discovered ballistics evidence and a 9-1-1 recording from the night of the incident, however, cast serious doubt on her recollection of events.

After years of legal jockeying by Risigner and other attorneys, a three-judge appellate panel tossed the convictions in late December, saying the new evidence “powerfully undermines” the woman’s account.

The men may now be eligible to sue New Jersey for more than $1 million under a wrongful imprisonment compensation law.

That statute provides up to $50,000 for each year of incarceration, provided the person suing can demonstrate their innocence “by clear and convincing evidence.”

Risigner declined to comment Thursday on whether that was an avenue the men would pursue.

Money aside, Baker said he’s still deciding his goals for the future, although he knows he wants to get a job soon. He said keeping busy was key to his mental wellbeing in prison.

“I was a paralegal at times. I cared for people in the infirmary for a long time,” he said. “So basically just helping people.”

As for coming home after 25 years, he said the transition has been easier than expected.

“I thought it was going to be worse,” he said. “I’m handling it pretty well. I’m not too shocked yet. Just the GPS, all the GPS navigation systems, that’s kind of interesting.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal