Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Wrongly convicted man set free after 39 years

by Ernest Alexander
Originally posted 1/9/2007

BALTIMORE (NNPA) -- Imagine that you are convicted of a crime you didn't commit. Despite pleas of innocence, you face racially biased testimony and ajury not composed of your peers. You are found guilty and sent to jail. Your freedom stripped and your dignity lost. What do you do, how do you cope with the reality that is now your life?

This was the reality for Walter Lomax, after serving nearly four decades in prison for a crime that he, as well as family, says he didn't commit.

Lomax, now 59, was released on Dec. 14 after being accused, tried and convicted for the killing of Robert Brewer, a 56-year-old convenience store manager, on Dec. 2, 1967. Over the next 39 years, Lomax faced countless struggles and hardships and had to live with the fact that this was not only affecting him, but his family as well.

''My position has always been taking the stigma off my family,'' said Lomax.''They [his family] knew that I didn't do it, but they had to live with itall these years. So even if I was released, I would continue to struggle.''

After years of claiming innocence and four recommendations for parole,Lomax's case was finally reopened when Circuit Judge Gale E. Rasin saw the evident racial discrimination that took place during the original trial.''In the interest of justice,''

Judge Rasin reopened Lomax's case and ultimately overturned his life prison term and re-sentenced him to time served.

Upon entering prison, Lomax faced many difficulties that made the transition from life as a free man to one of an institutionalized one hard. ''The first ten years were somewhat difficult because I was angry and bitter about it.

After that I just realized that I had to struggle to get out,'' said Lomax.

Lomax, having dropped out of high school earlier in his life, faced many hardships. Having a lack of basic reading and writing skills back then, he reflects on the events that had transpired in his life and the changes thatcould have been made during the trial.

''When I went into prison, I was basically functionally illiterate...Which is primarily responsible for me not being able to participate in the trial,'' said Lomax.

Prior to his ordeal, Lomax had faith in the criminal justice system and believed that justice would come to him because he was innocent of the crime, but the outcome would be much different.

''I thought that, okay you [I] didn't do it, and they would find it out or they would find out who did it,'' said Lomax.

During Lomax's trial, an all White jury found him guilty after five White eye witnesses identified him as the shooter. Despite claims of innocence and physical constrictions that would have made it nigh impossible for him to commit the robbery and murder, he was found guilty.

Two weeks prior to the robbery and murder of Brewer, Lomax received severe injuries sustained by an assault while he was escorting his two younger sisters to a party.

The resulting effect was that Lomax had to wear a long thick cast on his wrist and arm due to a stab wound he received from the beating, a fact that all five eye witnesses failed to note when they fingered Lomax as the killer.

During the time of the murder Lomax, who said he had no idea where the store was then or now, was at his sister's house recovering from the injuries and he recalls the seriousness of his physical state at that time.

''Because of the severity of the injuries, I mean the hand injury in and of itself was severe, but my knees were scraped and busted and my ribs were severely cracked. I was in pretty bad shape. I was physically incapable of coming out.''

Upon hearing Lomax's story and realizing the inconsistencies that lie beneath the surface of his trial, Steve Delaney and Jim McColskey of Centurion Ministries, a New Jersey nonprofit organization geared at helping people they feel are wrongly convicted gain their freedom, got involved.

Dubbed the ''dream team'' by Lomax and family, Delaney and McColskey along with Lomax's lawyers Larry Nathan and Booth Ripkey went to work fighting hard to free Lomax from an unjust conviction.

One of the reasons that Lomax's release took much longer than expected was his firm stance on his innocence in the crime and that he would never accept any responsibility for the crime, a fact he stressed to Centurion to relay as they were putting together the details of his release.

Overcoming many of the adversities in his path, Lomax learned to read and write while he was in prison. He also wrote a book and received an AA degree from Essex Community College in criminal justice and business administration as well as credits from Morgan State University, Towson University andvarious community colleges while incarcerated. His spotless prison record also afforded him the privilege to be let out on work release from 1988 to1993 and see his family.

Now a free man, Lomax is looking past the drama, lies and court trials and looking to spend time with his family and live as an ordinary man. Spendingtime with his grand kids and great-grand kids and seeing many of the faces he hasn't seen in years, Lomax just revels in the fact that he is home with loved ones.

He said, ''The reality is that I am so elated to be with my family, to have my freedom which is very important to me as well as for my family because they had to suffer this over the years.''------------------------------------------------------------------------

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