Making an Exoneree: Keith Washington Released After 13 Years in Prison
Keith Washington left a Maryland prison on June 23 and reunited with his wife and daughters after more than 13 years apart. His release comes about a month after a judge agreed to reduce Washington’s excessive original sentence.
Washington, an Army veteran and a police officer for 17 years, was convicted in 2008 of involuntary manslaughter following an incident in his home. Despite the overwhelming evidence that he was acting in defense of himself and his family, he was sentenced to 45 years in prison.
With support from prosecutors for a reduced sentence, Washington will now be able to celebrate his 60th birthday with his family and friends.
“It feels like I can finally breathe after holding my breath for 13 years,” said Stacey Washington, Keith’s wife.
Making an Exoneree
Keith Washington’s story was the subject of a 2020 Making an Exoneree investigation and short documentary by Georgetown students Josh Rosson, Céline Berdous, and Trevor O’Connor. Through research and extensive interviews, they advocated for Washington’s release.
Prisons and Justice Initiative Director Marc Howard, who co-teaches the Making an Exoneree course, said when he first learned of Washington’s case, he was shocked by the extensive sentence for involuntary manslaughter, especially given the circumstances.
“We’re so relieved and happy that Keith is back with his family where he belongs,” Howard said. “The resentencing agreement, which was supported by the prosecution, shows it was well past time for Keith to come home.”
Howard, fellow Making an Exoneree professor Marty Tankleff, and their former students attended the May 14 virtual hearing that reduced Washington’s sentence to 20 years, effectively resulting time served. The judge and both attorneys commended the students’ thorough investigative work as informative in shaping the agreement that allowed for Washington’s release.
“The research that was done by the Georgetown group was quite extensive and did at least provide some guidance as to where the issues were,” prosecutor Charles Tucker Jr. said during the hearing. “I commend them as a faculty in putting that together.”
Through that research process, Rosson said, he and his teammates were able to piece together details of the case and highlight the life and family that Washington has been separated from for 13 years.
“We’re so grateful to Keith and his family for their openness and for allowing us to tell Keith’s story. It’s humbling to think that our work played even a small part in getting him home,” said Rosson, who graduated from Georgetown in 2020.
The Keith Washington case
On Jan. 24, 2007, Washington was at home with his wife and daughter Kala, then 6, when two men, Robert White and Brandon Clark, arrived in a furniture delivery truck to install bed rails the Washingtons had ordered.
While the pair were meant to be working in the main bedroom, Washington instead saw White coming out of Kala’s room. Uneasy and alarmed, he asked the men to leave. Instead, he says, they attacked him — a scene that Stacey Washington described seeing from the bottom of the stairs before she called 911. Keith Washington shot both men with his service weapon, ultimately killing Clark. He had never once fired his gun on the job in his 17 years as a police officer.
It was later revealed that White, who would be the state’s main witness against Washington, had a dozen prior convictions, including unlawful entry, burglary, and assault. He also had cocaine in his system when he entered the Washingtons’ home.
Tankleff said that in most places, Washington would likely not have been charged. In Washington’s case, however, prosecutors in his original trial dismissed his self-defense argument and pushed for more serious second-degree murder and second-degree attempted murder charges.
The 2020 Making an Exoneree investigation outlined the inconsistencies in White’s testimony and the evidence — including DNA, gunshot residue, and shell casings — that support Washington’s story.
“We knew going in that this was a unique case for Making an Exoneree and that it would not be clear cut,” Rosson said. “But the further we got into the investigation and the more we talked with Keith and people who know him, the more obvious it was that he didn’t deserve to spend 45 years of his life in prison.”
See full details of the case, including testimony and evidence, on the website here.
Washington was ultimately convicted in 2008 of the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter, two counts of first-degree assault, and two counts of use of a handgun in the commission of a felony. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison — well above the recommended five to 20 years. For Washington’s own protection as a former police officer, much of his 13 years in prison were spent on and off in solitary confinement, sometimes in months-long stretches.
“Keith’s original sentence, after his tragic conviction, flagrantly disregarded the sentencing guidelines, as well as the circumstances of this case,” Tankleff said. “His resentencing can’t give him the past 13 years back, but it is a step in the right direction and a new beginning for Keith and his family.”
Keith and Stacey Washington thanked the office of the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney for supporting a sentence reduction in his case and, more broadly, for their work in criminal justice and sentencing reform. They also acknowledged the Georgetown team for their efforts on Washington’s behalf.
“I can’t say enough about the students and professors,” Keith Washington said. “My family and I will forever be grateful to Georgetown.”
Looking ahead to what’s next, Washington said he’ll keep working to have his conviction overturned.
“It feels liberating to be home, but justice still has not been done in this case,” he said.
For now, he’ll spend time with his family and make up for the time that he missed.
“I’m looking forward to Keith interacting with and building the relationship with his daughters again. It’s been 13 years, and his youngest was just 7 when he was convicted; she’s 21 now, so they have a lot of catching up to do,” Stacey Washington said. “And just living and thriving as a family.”
Washington also said he looks forward to eating home cooked meals, walking barefoot in the grass, and visiting the grave of his mother, who passed away while he was incarcerated.
“And who knows, maybe I’ll go to law school,” he added.
About Making an Exoneree
Currently wrapping up its fourth year, Making an Exoneree is an intensive course taught each spring by childhood friends and Georgetown professors Marc Howard and Marty Tankleff. Tankleff himself was wrongfully convicted of murder and served more than 17 years in prison before being exonerated. Every spring semester, students produce approximately five short documentaries and online advocacy campaigns for individuals with strong cases for exoneration or release.
In 2018, Making an Exoneree was instrumental in the exoneration of Valentino Dixon, who had been incarcerated for 27 years. And in May 2021, Eric Riddick was freed nearly 30 years after his wrongful conviction. Several other Making an Exoneree cases are either pending in Conviction Integrity Units or have evidentiary hearings pending.
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