"Malcolm Bryant has been incarcerated since Dec. 1, 1998, for a murder that he did not commit," Nethercott told reporters at a news conference at the Baltimore state's attorney's office. "Finally, after six rounds of DNA testing, he was able to show through DNA evidence that he was not the one who killed Toni Bullock."
Bullock, an 11th-grader at Carver Vocational-Technical High School who aspired to be an accountant, was walking home from a drugstore with her best friend on Nov. 20, 1998, when a man dragged her into a vacant lot and stabbed her multiple times.
Police released a composite sketch, and presented Bullock's friend with a photo lineup that included Bryant. The friend picked him out as the killer.
Bryant produced alibi witnesses, but he was convicted of murder by a city jury the following year.
Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said it was "hard to reconcile that we live in a world that would take 17 years away from an innocent man."
After the latest lab results, Mosby said, prosecutors sought to determine if there was a plausible explanation for why the other profile might be present. They re-interviewed witnesses, visited the crime scene, and talked to Bryant's alibi witnesses.
"The only plausible reason … is that the DNA is in fact that of the killer," Mosby said. "And the DNA does not match that of Malcolm Bryant, which in all probability means he is not the killer."
Nethercott said prosecutors over the years had resisted the tests, and the city court system's overcrowded dockets made it a challenge just to get into court.
She praised Mosby's office for not trying to contest the latest DNA findings with a new trial. She said it was a prosecutor's job not only to convict the guilty but to clear those wrongly charged.
In court, family members of Bryant yelled "Hallelujah" after the charges were dropped, but in the courthouse hallway after the hearing described his ordeal as a "horror."
Mosby said the case hasn't caused her to question cases where eyewitness testimony may be the only evidence available.
"I think it's reliable," she said. "In a lot of cases, that's all we have."
Davis said police have changed their procedures for witness identifications. He said the department is moving toward a "double-blind" process in which witnesses are shown possible suspect pictures one-by-one instead of six at a time.
Mosby said she has reorganized her office to look closely at petitions for exonerations.
"The public most know that justice is the only barometer of success for this office," Mosby said.