Boston mayor apologizes to Black men wrongly linked to notorious 1989 murder

(Reuters) – Boston Mayor Michelle Wu on Wednesday issued a formal apology on behalf of the city to two Black men wrongly accused of the 1989 murder of a pregnant white woman, a high-profile case that deepened rifts between the police force and the Black community.

Declaring the apology “just the beginning of a much longer journey of accountability and action,” Wu presented physical copies of the apology at a press conference to Alan Swanson, one of the two men, and relatives of the other man, Willie Bennett, who was not present.

“To every Black resident, I am sorry not only for the abuse our city enacted, but for the beliefs and the bias that brought them to bear in the first place,” said Wu, who became the first woman and person of color elected mayor in Boston in 2021.

Several U.S. cities in recent years have confronted past wrongs their criminal justice systems inflicted on residents of color. New York City in 2014 settled a $41 million lawsuit with the Central Park Five, a group of Black and Latino teenagers wrongly convicted of raping a white woman jogger in 1989.

Wu’s apology comes after the release of an HBO series, “Murder in Boston,” that dissects the killing and its aftermath, which exacerbated the city’s long-standing racial tensions.

Swanson and Bennett were not formally charged with the murder of the pregnant woman, Carol Stuart, but they were arrested and publicly branded suspects after the actual culprit, Stuart’s husband, told police that she had been murdered by a Black man who he said had abducted the couple, according to local news reports.

When the husband’s story later began to unravel, he stopped his car on a local bridge and jumped off, killing himself. His brother confessed to helping hide the gun used in the staged murder.

Boston Police Commissioner Michael Cox echoed Wu’s apology and said that while his department had evolved in many ways since 1989, “we have a ways to go.”

Bennett’s nephew Joey said at the press conference that the accusations had traumatized multiple generations of his family, as well as Swanson and Bennett themselves.

“He hasn’t been right since that case,” Joey Bennett said at the conference, gesturing at Swanson, who stood silently behind him. “I hope we can move forward positively from this moment.”

(Reporting by Julia Harte; Editing by Alistair Bell)