A 69-year-old man convicted of abducting and killing an 11-year-old girl in Northwest Baltimore more than four decades ago will receive a new trial.
Maryland's second-highest court has vacated the murder conviction of Wayne Stephen Young, who has been behind bars since 1969 for the killing of Esther Lebowitz.
"This was the result we were expecting, and I think the court made the right decision," said Young's defense attorney, Erica J. Suter.
Young has challenged his conviction numerous times over the years. His latest challenge, in 2013, was based on the so-called Unger ruling, in which the state's highest court found that improper jury instructions had rendered many convictions before 1980 invalid.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Edward Hargadon ruled in April 2014 that the Unger decision did not apply in Young's case, saying jurors received sufficient instructions more than 40 years ago, and he denied Young's request to reopen his post-conviction proceeding and have his conviction vacated.
Young then took his case to the Court of Special Appeals, which reversed the lower court's decision. Its decision was filed last week.
While much of Lebowitz's family has left Baltimore, the case has kept the city's Jewish community on edge through years of Young's appeals and challenges, with many packing courtrooms to hear the proceedings.
Neil Schachter, president of the Northwest Citizens Patrol, who has been following the case, was saddened to hear that Young will be getting a new trial.
"He's a cold-blooded killer who murdered a defenseless 11-year-old girl," Schachter said Tuesday. He said he was unaware of the ruling until receiving a telephone call from a reporter.
He said Young had confessed to the killing. "There's not much left to be to be said," he said.
Lebowitz disappeared on Sept. 29, 1969, after a rabbi dropped her off on Park Heights Avenue.
Her body was found days later in a field off the side of the road with injuries including 17 lacerations to her head, which a medical examiner believed were caused by a hammer. Part of her body was covered in sand and blue paint, which led police to a tropical fish store in Park Heights where Young worked.
Young confessed to investigators that he had killed the girl. His attorneys, however, claimed he was temporarily insane.
In 1970, jurors convicted him in less than 30 minutes.
Suter said her client has had a good record during his incarceration. "He's been infraction-free," she said.
Since the 2012 Unger ruling, state's attorneys offices have made deals to release many prisoners on time served rather than attempt to retry decades-old cases.
A spokeswoman for the Baltimore state's attorney's office said the prosecutor who handles cases affected by the Unger ruling was not in the office Tuesday and could not comment.
"My impression is that the state wants to try to retry this case," Suter said. "It's the state's call. It's difficult for everyone" when cases must be retried, she said.
But, she added, "it makes us all safer when we know our constitutional protections are at play."