With his brother comparing him to Nelson Mandela, Elliott Ray spoke publicly for the first time yesterday since being cleared of charges that he raped and murdered a 9-year-old girl two years ago at a West Baltimore high-rise.
A crowd of family and supporters, including 4th District Councilman Lawrence Bell, offered praise for Mr. Ray at a "Welcome Home" reception held at Enon Baptist Church in the 600 block of N. Schroeder St.
"Out of this grave and bitter experience, my brother prevailed like Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in a South African dungeon," said Elliott Ray's younger brother, the Rev. Willie Ray, the crusading "Stop the Killing" preacher. "God still moves in a mysterious way, and I do believe this is divine intervention."
Speaking near a snack buffet of cheese popcorn, cookies and potato chips, Elliott Ray told reporters he was innocent and a victim of false arrest.
"I didn't kill the little girl. I had never even seen her," said Elliott Ray, 47, who was released earlier this month. He had spent 14 months in jail before prosecutors dropped first-degree murder, first-degree rape and sex offense charges. "I was arrested for nothing," he said.
The charges were dropped for lack of evidence, primarily because a DNA test on Mr. Ray's bodily fluids showed that they did not match those of the killer of Ebony Scott, who was raped, sodomized and strangled. Her body was found Aug. 13 in a trash bin in front of the George P. Murphy Homes public housing project.
"Thank God for DNA. If it wasn't for that, he'd be facing the death penalty," said Willie Ray, founder of the "Save Another Youth" activist foundation that has led dozens of anti-violence rallies in Baltimore.
Elliott Ray -- formerly homeless -- said he was subletting an apartment at Murphy Homes at the time of Ebony's death. Police arrested him after finding blood traces on the floor of the apartment and after he made statements during an interview with homicide detectives, court records show.
In that interview, Elliott Ray was shown a photograph of Ebony and he told detectives that he recognized her "as the girl that was brutally raped and sodomized," the court papers said.
"The defendant at this point in time could not have known that the victim had been raped and sodomized as no information regarding injuries to the victim had been released to any of the news media," the court papers said. No photo of the girl had been released, either, police said.
A man who was on his way to work on the morning Ebony's body was found told police that he had seen Elliott Ray standing by the trash bin, "scratching his head and looking in different directions," court records said.
Yesterday, Elliott Ray said he had never been by the trash bin and that the witness had made "a mistake." He also said he knew details of Ebony's death because "word had been going around . . . that she had been raped and killed. Everyone at Murphy Homes knew it."
Elliott Ray said he knew nothing of the blood traces in the apartment, since he went there only occasionally to change his clothes and didn't sleep at the residence.
"I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time," Elliott Ray said.
Police spokesman Sam Ringgold said yesterday that no new suspect has been identified in the Scott murder.
The little girl was from New York City and had come to Baltimore with her mother to visit a relative.
Mr. Bell sat next to Elliott Ray during the news conference and at one point put his hand on Mr. Ray's shoulder, saying, "When you think about what this bugger has been through, it shows you that the system can fail. It can fail anyone."