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Baltimore man spent 19 years — nearly half his life — behind bars for a shooting he didn’t do. Tuesday he won freedom.

An East Baltimore man locked up since 2002 for attempted murder was ordered released from prison Tuesday after the gunshot victim recanted in the case.

The victim, who survived two shots to his face, told authorities he came upon the real shooter years later at Patapsco Flea Market in South Baltimore.

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“I looked at him, and I got this weird feeling. And I was like that’s the guy that shot me right there,” the victim said, according to court records.

The chance encounter led prosecutors and defense attorneys to ask a Baltimore judge to set free 40-year-old Melvin Thomas. He spent nearly two decades in prison before seeing his name cleared.

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“Mr. Thomas, I wish you a happy and healthy holiday,” said Lauren Lipscomb, chief of the Conviction Integrity Unit in the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office.

Defense attorney Booth Ripke, right, and his client Melvin Thomas. Thomas was released from prison Tuesday after prosecutors and defense attorneys concluded he had been wrongly convicted.
Defense attorney Booth Ripke, right, and his client Melvin Thomas. Thomas was released from prison Tuesday after prosecutors and defense attorneys concluded he had been wrongly convicted. (Courtesy photo)

Thomas spoke only briefly, thanking her and the prosecutors for their work. The unit has exonerated 10 men in recent years, some for high-profile murders, who served a combined 270 years in prison for crimes that prosecutors concluded they did not commit.

“This particular, newly discovered evidence creates a substantial or significant possibility to a different result at trial,” Baltimore Circuit Judge Charles Peters said.

After Peters threw out the conviction and granted a new trial, prosecutors immediately dropped the case, ending Thomas’ legal journey. Thomas’ attorney thanked prosecutors for their work to set free his client.

“It’s a hard thing to do to take your file over to the prosecutors’ office and hand it to them,” said Booth Ripke, the defense attorney.

The case against Thomas stemmed from a February 2001 shooting of a man outside an East Baltimore rowhouse bar called My Sally’s Place. The victim — who later admitted to selling drugs out of the bar — was shot in his face in an attempted robbery. Prosecutors withheld his name to protect his identity.

Detectives interviewed the patrons and workers and determined the shooter was 5-foot-9 to 5-foot-11, medium build and wearing a gray sweatshirt, jeans and a bandanna, according to court records. They identified Thomas as a possible match and included his picture in a photo array. The victim picked Thomas out when shown the photos.

Thomas pleaded not guilty but was convicted by jurors on the weight of the victim’s identification. The jury found him guilty of attempted murder and conspiracy, robbery and gun charges. In April 2002, he was sentenced to 65 years in prison.

His exoneration comes four years after the first man was set free by the Conviction Integrity Unit. Since then, the unit of four prosecutors, one law clerk and one investigator has attracted the attention of many men behind bars. State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said they receive about 200 applications a year from prisoners asking that their cases be reviewed.

“This is just a drop in the ocean,” Mosby said. “We’re going to keep charging ahead.”

Separately, on Monday, her office secured the release of the longest-serving female prison in a Maryland prison. Prosecutors asked the courts to set free Eraina Pretty, 61, who spent more than 40 years in prison for her role as an accomplice in two 1970s killings.

The Maryland Parole Commission had concluded Pretty felt sufficiently remorseful and was no threat to public safety.

Prosecutors asked the courts to set her free under an order from Maryland’s chief judge that seeks to release nonviolent and aging prisoners who are at-risk of the coronavirus.

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