After serving nearly 40 years in prison for a fatal shooting, Walter Lomax was released in 2006 amid questions about his trial. On Wednesday, he celebrated another milestone in his case, as prosecutors formally dropped the charges against him.
Lomax, now 67, was sent to prison after being found guilty in the 1968 death of Robert L. Brewer, a night manager of a Brooklyn food market. A judge commuted his sentence eight years ago, citing problems with the evidence that led to his conviction. But the crime remained on his record.
"Finally, after close to 50 years, close to a half-century, something my family members and I have waited for: I've finally been vindicated," said Lomax, who wore a gray suit, black collarless shirt and sunglasses. He was joined by his lawyers, family and other supporters outside the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse.
Since his release, Lomax has become a mentor to other men released from prison after long sentences, including some released over the past year under the Unger decision, an appellate court decision that said many trials before 1980 were unfair because of faulty jury instructions.
On Wednesday, Baltimore Circuit Judge Charles J. Peters granted Lomax a new trial but the Baltimore state's attorney's office immediately dropped the original charges against him.
Prosecutors and Lomax's attorneys said that during the initial trial the state failed to hand over key evidence to Lomax's defense attorney, including the responding officer's police report and a suspect composite sketch based on witness accounts.
Antonio Gioia, chief of the city's Conviction Integrity Unit, said that given the additional evidence, there was "significant possibility" that the outcome of the case would have been different.
Philip T. Inglima, one of Lomax's attorneys, said after the hearing that the resolution was just.
"Evidence was suppressed and an unfair trial was created by police misconduct … that robbed Walter Lomax of justice," he said.
Gioia said Brewer's wife is dead and that his daughter and granddaughter declined to attend the hearing.
In 2006, Brewer's granddaughter, Carmen Lott, said the system wants "to clear its conscience, overcompensating today for yesterday."
She could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Another Lomax attorney, William H. "Billy" Murphy Jr., said the outcome is not only an injustice for his client but for Brewer's family.
"We have put the victims through terrible torment because our system didn't work, and the torment is that they thought that they had closure when in fact closure was ripped from them when the real truth came out," Murphy said.
He noted the turbulent time when Lomax — who is black —was charged. The killing took place a year before the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and race riots occurred in cities across the country, including Baltimore. Blacks were not fairly selected to serve on juries at the time, Murphy said.
"[Lomax] is not alone, not the only victim of that time. So in some small way, Walter's victory is dedicated to the hope that we will undo other false convictions," Murphy said.
During the brief hearing, Lomax said that while serving his sentence he maintained his "moral character" instilled in him by his parents. He is the executive director of the Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative, a group that advocates for prisoners and helps them re-enter society.
"It has been extremely difficult, as one can imagine," he said.
But Lomax said his family also had faith in his innocence, which sustained him.
"This was just a bump in the road. The best is yet to come," he said in court, addressing his older sister Carolyn.