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INNOCENCE PROJECT TOOK CASE OF MAN NOW HELD IN TEEN'S DEATH

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Dante Parrish always swore he was wrongly convicted for the 1999 murder of an East Baltimore man, and his pleas eventually gained the attention of the Innocence Project, which took up the case last year.

The evidence, according to lawyers for the small unit of state public defenders who represent people they believe have been wrongly convicted, was shaky from the start, relying on what they say was a false witness identification of Parrish and a gun that he never owned.

So when Parrish was awarded a new trial in January, Innocence Project attorneys considered it a victory, but one that lost its luster when the 35-year-old was arrested Thursday night and charged with the rape and fatal stabbing of Jason Madison Jr., 15.

Baltimore police say Parrish confessed to the killing Friday morning.

Michelle Nethercott, chief of the Innocence Project, said she stands by her agency's decision to fight for Parrish. In January, the state's attorney's office offered Parrish a plea deal that amounted to time served, and he was released, according to the city prosecutor's office.

"The case that we were involved in stands or falls on its own merit," Nethercott said. "It ... had all the hallmarks - you can't convict people on false evidence. Obviously, I'm horrified at what happened to this child. But I can't screen cases on future predictions on what might happen."

Parrish was led from police headquarters Friday morning to the Central Booking and Intake Center, where he was to be processed. But Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said Parrish was instead admitted to Mercy Medical Center after complaining of headaches and a head injury.

The crime police are accusing Parrish of has gained national attention and shaken the East Baltimore neighborhood where Jason's body was found early Tuesday. Jason, who had been bound, gagged and stabbed in the head and throat with a box cutter, was discovered in the closet of his aunt's rowhouse in the 2400 block of Llewelyn Ave.

Parrish is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree assault and first-degree sex offense, among other charges.

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