The day Clarence Shipley found out he would receive millions of dollars was not a time for celebration.
After spending his entire 20s, 30s and much of his 40s in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Shipley was awarded $2.1 million Wednesday ― the third-largest payout to a wrongfully incarcerated man in Maryland history. But he and his wife, Meka, were in no mood to cheer.
From his home in Towson, Shipley thought of all the years he lost behind bars. He thought of how his youngest son died in a fire, and how those bars kept him from attending little Isaiah’s funeral.
“I’m OK with it,” Shipley, 48, said stoically of the award. “There’s no amount they can give me to replace what I lost.”
Five men who were wrongly convicted and imprisoned for decades in Maryland will receive compensation from the state totaling about $9 million under a plan the state Board of Public Works approved Wednesday.
The board awarded payments of $78,916 per year served by the men, who had been released from prison and declared innocent. Board members arrived at the dollar figure because it represents a 5-year average of the state’s median household income.
Democratic state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp said at the meeting that the payments represent “a very small token” to address the pain and suffering the men endured at the hands of the state’s flawed justice system.
“These are men who spent thousands of days, thousands of mornings in prison,” Kopp said. “There’s no way we can sufficiently apologize. ... They were terribly wronged and I apologize."
Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot called the justice system “broken” and said he hoped the board’s vote would bring some “solace” to the men.
Shipley, Jerome Johnson, Lamar Johnson, Walter Lomax and Hubert James Williams pushed Kopp, Franchot and Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who make up the board, for months to compensate them for their years lost in prison. They spent a combined 120 years behind bars. Jerome Johnson and Lamar Johnson are not related.
Hogan was represented Wednesday at the meeting by Republican Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford.
The awards will be paid out over several years.
None of the men appeared before the spending panel, but several spoke afterward to The Baltimore Sun.
Shipley, who spent 27 years behind bars, was convicted in Baltimore based on the testimony of a witness who wrongly identified him as the killer of a chef during a robbery in Cherry Hill. He insisted on his innocence to anyone who would listen, but the police and prosecutors weren’t hearing him, he recalled.
He was freed in 2018, thanks in part to the work of a partnership of nonprofit innocence projects ― which investigate old cases with the aim of exonerating innocent prisoners ― run by the University of Baltimore, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby and George Washington University in Washington.
“I was angry early on, but I forgave them,” Shipley said of the prosecutors and police who pressed forward with his case despite his pleas. “I’m not angry. I’m not bitter. It’s not going to get me nowhere to be angry or bitter. I’m a forgiving person. I want to move on with my life."
Shipley said his life has been “up and down” since he was released last year. He’s found work as a maintenance man, but said the scars from decades in prison are still there. “It’s still a struggle," he said.
He hopes to use the money as a “cushion for me and my family" and he’d like to move relatives out of what he called “the projects” in Cherry Hill.
“It was a great day for people who find themselves in this situation. They will not have to go through what the five of us had to endure."— Walter Lomax, who will receive about $3 million after spending 38 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit
Lomax, who served 38 years on a murder conviction before a judge released him in 2006, is in line to receive about $3 million, which is the largest such payment to an exoneree ever made by the state.
That’s nothing to boast about, he said. “What that means is I served the most time,” Lomax, 71, said Wednesday.
Lomax said he hoped the board’s decision will mean other exonerees wouldn’t have to wait years to be compensated.
“It was a great day for people who find themselves in this situation," he said. “They will not have to go through what the five of us had to endure."
Lomax was convicted in 1968 of killing the night manager at the Giles Food Market in Baltimore, but cleared nearly four decades later. He said he doesn’t blame any individual for his wrongful conviction.
“I was tried after the Martin Luther King assassination and after the riots occurred," Lomax said. “The environment was ripe for what happened to me to happen to any person of color.”
Lomax, who entered prison at age 20 and wasn’t released until he was nearly 60, said spending decades behind bars leaves a human emotionally scarred ― especially an innocent man.
“Your life will never be the same. No matter how much money you receive, it creates an emotional and psychological scar on you," he said. "It’s etched into your psyche for the rest of your life.”
He said he hopes to use the money to build a better life — “Buy a home,” he said. “Help some of my family members.”
The deal for the payments was reached after overcoming a snag for some of the men: a requirement that they sign a form releasing the state from liability in their cases, which would mean they couldn’t pursue litigation.
Jerome Johnson, for instance, has filed a federal lawsuit against the Baltimore Police Department, alleging officers suppressed evidence of his innocence. Though it is funded by the city and its police commissioner is appointed by the mayor, the police department is technically a state agency.
However, Neel Lalchandani of Brown, Goldstein & Levy, which represents Johnson and Shipley, said his clients were able to reach an agreement with the state that the release from liability does not apply to the Baltimore Police Department or the city of Baltimore.
Jerome Johnson will receive $2.3 million for his 30 years in prison.
Lawyers for Williams, 67, who has been homeless for long stretches of time since his release, said he would receive about $900,000, paid out over two years.
Jana Seidl, one of William’s lawyers, said her client has been recovering recently from suffering injuries on the streets. He hopes to use the money to get into permanent housing.
“His reaction was a mix of happiness and relief,” Seidl said. “This has been a long time coming for him.”
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In November 2009, a judge concluded Williams, now 67, had nothing to do with a barroom robbery in Essex in 1997. He had spent nearly 12 years in prison.
Lamar Johnson will receive $953,672 for his nearly 13 years in prison. Johnson, who now works in maintenance with Shipley for Blue Ocean Realty, said he stills asks himself every day why he had the misfortune of being wrongly incarcerated.
“I told the state’s attorney I didn’t do it. I told all the homicide detectives that I didn’t do it. They said, ‘Everybody says they’re innocent,’” Johnson said. “Nobody listened to me but the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project.”
Lamar Johnson said he’s had difficulty adjusting to life outside of prison.
“I missed the best years of my life,” he said. “It’s been up and down. I came home with nothing, no ID, no job training. I would have been homeless, if not for my mom.”
He said the money will change his life in a “big way.”
“I’m going to get some counseling that I really need,” Lamar Johnson said. “I’m grateful God blessed me with my freedom, but I still wake up sad and depressed. This money is going to allow me to at least rebuild my life. It’s a start.”