In all, 22-year-old Maligie Conteh, who immigrated to the United States from Sierra Leone at age 3, spent more than four years in prison: 17 months after a wrongful conviction of a $150-dollar robbery, and the remainder at an immigration detention facility in Porstmouth, Va., where he awaited deportation to Sierra Leone due to the conviction.
Mark Godsey reported on this case earlier here.
Thanks to the work of the University of Virginia’s Innocence Project Clinic and the law firm McGuireWoods, Judge Randy Bellows overturned Conteh’s conviction on September 13 due to a Brady violation. The prosecution had not shared the fact that the alleged victim had criminal convictions himself and was in possession of fraudulent documents. By accessing records from Facebook, Conteh’s defense team also confirmed Conteh’s alibi, that he’d been on the Internet and had posted a photo within minutes of the time of the alleged burglary.
The judge indicated that he would acquit Conteh if prosecutors sought to retry him. As reported in the Cavalier Daily here yesterday, Conteh has been released.
The Innocence Clinic report here relates the fortuitous introductions that preceded this outcome. McGuirewoods’ lawyer Jonathan Blank was working pro bono on Conteh’s immigration issue when Conteh told him he never committed the crime that was forcing his deportation. The University of Virginia law grad was able to get the assistance of the school’s Innocence Project Clinic after meeting one of the students working there.
This is the kind case that doesn’t always make headlines. However, as Dierdre Enright, director of investigation for the Innocence Project Clinic indicated, it was not minor for Conteh. He lost four years of his life and was almost deported from the only home he has known to a country where he would have known no one. Second-year law student Chris Lisieski, who worked on the case, commented on the happenstance manner in which legal assistance came together for Conteh. “That’s certainly not how the criminal system should work,” he said.