|Then: In 1975, Leslie Vass was a 17-year-old star basketball player at his high school in Baltimore. He had no criminal record. In February of that year, he was leaving his neighborhood pharmacy with a newspaper in-hand and was arrested for an armed robbery that was committed four months earlier. He was tried by judge and convicted on the testimony of the victim who identified Leslie as the perpetrator. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
After spending seven years in prison, Leslie was approached by a man who claimed he knew the person who had actually committed the crime that Leslie was serving time for. He promised he would send him a picture which Leslie could submit as new evidence in hopes of being granted a second trial. In 1982, Leslie sent the picture, accompanied by a letter, to the Public Defenders’ office in Baltimore. He did not hear back for two years. In 1984, word arrived that the victim of the crime had positively identified the man in the picture as having committed the crime. He was wearing the same shirt in the picture as he was on the day of the crime. Leslie’s conviction was vacated and he was released two days later.
In 1987, Leslie received a settlement from the state of Maryland for $250,000 to be paid as an annuity. Despite this settlement and the promise that Leslie’s record would be expunged of all charges, the conviction was not removed from his record. After years of struggling to prove the conviction did not apply, Leslie filed and won a second lawsuit against the state, resulting in an award of $50,000 in 1998.Now: Today, Leslie volunteers with the Neighborhood Network Organization. He holds a BA in Sociology from Towson State University and he is a Certified Paralegal. He continues to lobby and advocate for the cause of exonerees on a regional, state, and federal level. He is especially impassioned by the need for national recognition of the plight of exonerees, saying “This bill (H.R. 2095) in DC right now is so important; it gives consideration to people whose lives have been taken from them, people who need and deserve some kind of support system to recover.” Leslie is a father as well as an advocate. His children, he says, “are what keep me positive. They keep me going, every single day.”
Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland