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Judge tosses Alford plea of wrongfully convicted man

Demetrius Smith always insisted he was not involved in the 2008 shooting he was convicted of. He never agreed to plead guilty. He entered what is known as an "Alford plea," which is essentially a no contest plea. The defendant maintains his or her innocence while acknowledging the state has a convincing case.

Smith had been wrongfully convicted before in a murder case. He agreed to the Alford plea because he was afraid he would be found guilty again. As part of the plea agreement, the prosecutor agreed to give Judge Barry Williams complete discretion over any changes to Smith's sentence.

Yet in July, a crucial witness recanted his story and Smith was exonerated of the murder. When Smith asked for his sentence for the shooting wiped out, the prosecutor wrongly said that Williams had no authority to change his sentence. Only after ProPublica covered the story did the prosecutor back down.

Back in 2013, another prosecutor admitted there were "some issues with the facts," meaning the conviction wasn't solid. He agreed to let Smith's sentence be changed to time served. Unfortunately, that left the conviction on his record, which interfered with finding a job or housing.

Recently, Judge Williams agreed to change Smith's sentence to probation, which he has already completed. There will no longer be a conviction on Smith's record.

It was a contentious hearing. The prosecutor who opposed the sentencing changes in the past continued to oppose them. He was apparently just as loose with his facts, as well.

When the prosecutor falsely claimed that the murder and shooting cases had no detectives in common, Judge Williams angrily rebuked him for making statements "on the fly" rather than being sure of his facts.

This same prosecutor pursued Smith for both the murder and the shooting -- and now Smith stands exonerated of both.

Smith was given a chance to confront the prosecutor. He noted that "humans make mistakes," but this prosecutor refused to acknowledge he was wrong.

"I sat in prison for five years," Smith said, while the prosecutor "couldn't even look me in the face. Tell me 'I'm sorry.'"

Can you imagine the despair of being wrongfully convicted of two separate crimes? In Smith's case, it appears that certain detectives and the prosecutor were the same in both cases, and a judge found Smith's exoneration to be "in the interest of justice" over the prosecutor's objections. It's a good thing that justice was ultimately done, but Smith lost more than five years of his life to false allegations.

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