The city of Boston issued a formal apology on Wednesday to two black men who were falsely linked to the death of Carol Stewart, a 30-year-old pregnant woman who was shot in 1989, in one of the city’s most high-profile cases that has illuminated its racial differences.
Alan Swanson and Willie Bennett were publicly and falsely named by news outlets as suspects in the murder, but were never formally charged.
Michelle Wu, Boston’s mayor, apologized at a news conference after an extensive investigation by The Boston Globe published this month and a related HBO documentary series detailing how Boston’s history of racism led to the botched investigation.
“We are here today to acknowledge the tremendous pain that the city of Boston inflicted on black residents in our neighborhoods 34 years ago,” Ms. Wu said. “Mayor, city officials and the Boston Police Department took actions that directly harmed these families and continue to impact the greater community, reopening a wound that has gone untreated for decades.”
Mr. Swanson and members of Mr. Bennett’s family attended the press conference.
“I want to say to Mr. Swanson and Mr. Bennett, the entire Bennett family and the entire black community in Boston, I am so sorry for what you have endured,” Ms. Wu said. “What was done to you was unjust, unfair, racist and wrong.”
On the night of October 23, 1989, Charles Stewart, who was white, called police from his car phone to say that he and his pregnant wife, Carol, had been shot. Mr Stewart survived a gunshot wound to the chest, but his wife died, as did their premature son 17 days later.
Mr. Stewart told police that a black man wearing a black tracksuit stole them after a delivery class, forcing the two to drive through Boston’s Mission Hill neighborhood “to an abandoned area.”
The report led to an intensive manhunt. Within days, Mr. Swanson, then 29 and homeless, was arrested. Police found a black tracksuit in a sink at the Mission Hill apartment where he was taken into custody. Authorities charged Mr. Swanson with burglary, but eventually released him because there was no physical evidence linking him to the murder.
Police soon turned their attention to Mr. Bennett based on affidavits given by teenagers who later said police had coerced them into making such statements. Mr. Bennett, who had a lengthy criminal record, was arrested in connection with an unrelated case and subsequently charged with robbing a video store.
Mr. Stewart later identified Mr. Bennett among a police lineup.
However, days later it was revealed that the story was a lie. Matthew Stewart, Mr Stewart’s youngest brother, told police that Charles actually planned the killing as part of a staged robbery. Matthew admitted to police that he helped dispose of his brother’s gun.
Mr Bennett was acquitted of murder but was jailed for 12 years for the video library robbery, which he says he did not commit.
Charles Stewart later died by suicide, while his brother pleaded guilty to charges including conspiracy and insurance fraud and went to prison for three years.
City officials and police were heavily criticized for their handling of the case, as were the media, which pushed the narrative that the wrongly accused suspects were guilty. The Bennetts sued the city of Boston, but were only able to secure $12,500 in settlements.
“There was no evidence that a black man committed this crime,” Ms. Wu said Wednesday, “but that didn’t matter because the story was one that confirmed and exposed the beliefs that were shared by so many from residents and reporters to officials and officials. At every level and at every opportunity, those in power turned a blind eye to the truth because the lie seemed familiar to them.”
Joey Bennett, Mr. Bennett’s nephew, attended Wednesday’s news conference. Willie Bennett did not appear. Now 73, he is ill and has not spoken publicly about the case in years, according to The Globe.
“We just want to express our gratitude to Mayor Wu for the apology,” Joey Bennett said. “Her courage to admit the mistakes of the Boston Police Department and offer a sincere apology is something we deeply respect and appreciate.”
“Your apology is accepted,” he added.
He also acknowledged Mr. Swanson in his remarks.
“So he’s a friend of the family and we’ve chosen to have him with us in solidarity so he can receive his apology from us,” Mr Bennett said. “He was wronged. He is not right after this case.
Mr. Swanson did not address reporters at the news conference, but later told The Associated Press that while he was “glad that this is happening today,” he still faced financial ruin.
“I just need financial compensation for all the trouble and pain I’m still going through,” he said.