After word came out this week that 40-year-old Bernard Webster would be released from prison after serving 20 years for a rape DNA tests show he did not commit, his lawyers at the state's public defender's office have been deluged with offers of help.
There have been job proposals and housing suggestions, offers of money and counseling. Students at Coppin State College have set up a collection for Webster, and at least one radio station has urged people to donate.
"It's amazing. It's been overwhelming," said Cynthia Boersma, an attorney at the public defender's office. "We've gotten many, many calls of support. It's heartwarming."
The help is needed. Webster walked into freedom this week without a job, family, home or money. He is not automatically entitled to compensation for his two decades of wrongful imprisonment because his case did not involve prosecutorial wrongdoing, his attorneys said.
Webster has a 10th-grade education and did not learn any marketable skills in prison. His most recent job in prison was in the kitchen.
David Sapper, a career counselor who said he usually helps "corporate types and executives" determine and achieve their career and life goals, offered his help after reading Wednesday about Webster's plight .
"I was touched by the story," he said. "I figured I could just put the newspaper down or I could try to do something."
David Shepard, the housing supervisor at Baltimore's St. Vincent de Paul Society, offered Webster a place to live. The organization provides two-year transitional housing.
"We just want to extend our services," he said.
Boersma said her office is forwarding all offers of support to Denise M. Smith, a counselor the public defender's office asked to help Webster make the transition back into society.
Boersma also said the attorneys are working to set up a fund for Webster. Until that happens, she said, anyone who wants to donate may send checks made out to Webster to the Office of the Public Defender.
Webster was 19 when he went to jail after being convicted in the daytime home invasion and rape of a 47-year-old school teacher in Towson. He was convicted of the offense in 1983, and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He was denied parole five times, in part because he maintained his innocence.
Michele Nethercott, who runs the Maryland public defender's Innocence Project, which has the same mission as the New York clinic, began working on Webster's case in 2000 when the Baltimore man asked the public defender's office for help in proving his innocence.
Webster had made that request of the office regularly since his 1983 conviction, according to the public defenders, but there was little the attorneys could do until the advent of DNA testing.
In 2001, as Nethercott was looking into the case, Webster filed his own petition for a DNA test.
Although the Baltimore County state's attorney's office asked the court to deny that motion, Judge Christian Kahl allowed Webster to go forward, citing a new Maryland law on DNA testing.
He was set free Thursday after a brief hearing in Baltimore County Circuit Court.
Because of automatic good-conduct credits, Webster was scheduled for release in February.