David Morris, a Maryland man wrongly convicted for a 2004 murder, was released from prison Thursday after a judge exonerated him earlier this week.
Morris, who served nearly 17 years, was sentenced to life in prison Nov. 15, 2005, after two days of jury deliberation.
The 36-year-old declined to comment Thursday after his release, but those who worked to free him said he is enjoying eating real food again and spending time with family.
Morris was wrongly convicted as a teenager for the Dec. 10, 2004, murder of Mustafa Carter, who was shot three times in the head in Baltimore, according to the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project.
Given "the information and evidence known now, the state’s confidence in Morris’s conviction has evaporated," said Marilyn J. Mosby, state’s attorney for Baltimore City.
Evidence was withheld during the trial, no physical evidence tied Morris to the scene of the crime and newly tested DNA taken from the victim’s clothing excluded him as the killer, Mosby wrote in a letter, citing an independent investigation into the conviction.
Shawn Armbrust, executive director of Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, said DNA evidence, tested for the first time this summer, was possibly the "final piece of the puzzle" to proving Morris' innocence to Maryland prosecutors.
"When there is so little evidence used to convict someone, there are fewer pieces you can undo," Armbrust said Thursday.
MAIP, which worked with the University of Baltimore Innocence Project Clinic (UBIPC) and the Conviction Integrity Unit at the Baltimore City State’s Attorney, said Morris' conviction was based on circumstantial and flimsy evidence.
"The only evidence linking Mr. Morris to the crime was the statement of KL, who was driving with two other passengers when he saw the crime taking place, at dusk and in the rain," MAIP said in a statement.
KL pointed out Morris as he sat on a front porch near the scene of the crime, and on that day in 2004, Morris was " immediately arrested and hasn’t been home since," the organization said.
The Innocence Project groups brought Morris' case to the state's attorney in 2018. He is the 40th person the Mid-Atlantic group has freed from wrongful incarceration since 2000.
Armbrust said MAIP has many cases awaiting ruling, but the "sad reality" of innocence projects like theirs is that there are few prosecutors willing to look at the "facts of the cases," as happened in Morris' case.
Armbrust said that it takes about seven and a half years to prove a wrongfully convicted person's innocence when the case has to be litigated before a judge, but that the process takes about a year when a prosecutor endorses the investigation.