Judge Overturns Md. Man's Conviction
29 Dec 2001
By JOHN BIEMER
JESSUP, Md. (AP) - A man imprisoned 27 years for the murder of a security guard was released from prison Friday, a day after a judge found his trial was error-ridden and overturned the conviction.
``Freedom is something I look at now as so precious,'' Michael Austin, 53, said as he stood outside the Maryland House of Correction.
The judge who reversed Austin's conviction freed him on $10,000 bail and ordered a new trial.
``A lot of people ask me if I'm angry at anyone,'' said Austin, who maintains his innocence. ``But it's not about that. It's about me trying to regain my life back.''
Deputy State's Attorney Sharon May said prosecutors are deciding whether to appeal, drop the charges, or proceed with a new trial.
Circuit Judge John Carroll Byrnes wrote in his decision Thursday that Austin's trial ``was plagued by multiple problems which, cumulatively, present the inescapable conclusion that he was denied a fair trial.''
Austin was convicted in the 1974 shooting death of Roy Kellam, a security guard at a grocery store. His arrest was based on a mug-shot identification by a store clerk who told detectives the shooter was a light-skinned black man about 5-foot-8.
Austin is 6-foot-5 and dark-skinned.
Centurion Ministries, a New Jersey-based group that seeks exoneration for those wrongly convicted, found that prosecutors failed to tell the jury that the man presented to them as Austin's accomplice was freed after police admitted they had the wrong man.
The only physical evidence against Austin was a wallet card with the alleged accomplice's name scribbled on it. Byrnes ruled that was no evidence at all.
The victim's widow, Alviera Kellam, said she supports the judge's decision.
``There's so much evidence that it wasn't him,'' she said. ``I feel
sorry for him. I hope it's over now.''
Addendum: Michael Austin will not be recharged. He is finally a free man.