SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB) — A man who has spent over two decades in jail on a murder charge has been granted a new trial.
Friday morning, Hampden County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Kinder granted a petition from Mark Schand.
Schand was just 21-years-old when he was convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to life in prison. The charges against him also included armed robbery and assault with intent to kill, related to the 1986 shooting death of Victoria Seymour outside the After Five Lounge in Springfield.
Schand’s conviction was largely based on eyewitness testimony.
This past February, Schand’s defense team filed a motion petitioning for a new trial, after eyewitnesses recanted their previous statements, saying they had received deals in their own cases by saying Schand was the one who fired the fatal shots.
Following the court hearing Friday, Schand was released on personal recognizance, pending a decision from the District Attorney’s office on a retrial.
Upon his release, Schand had a message for the victim’s family. “I’m sorry for their loss, but I had nothing to do with these crimes. I had absolutely no involvement with these crimes,” he says.
There’s no word yet on whether Hampden County District Attorney Mark Mastroianni plans on retrying the case. Calls to his office have not yet been returned.
However, Schand’s attorneys believe the chance of a retrial is slim.
“We’ll have other conversations with the District Attorney and as we review the case together, I think we will reach yet another agreement: that there is no basis for another trial,” explained Attorney John Thompson.
Still, there are questions Schand’s family will never have answered.
“Oh my God, how could they do this to him? How could they do this to him?” whispered Schand’s mother, Gertrude Jones, as she and the rest of his family and friends anxiously awaited his release.
It was clear the family was supportive of Schand from day one.
“We’ve been waiting for this day for 27 years and it’s a blessing for the whole family,” said his wife, Mia Schand. “They’ve been here for all the hearings, they’ve been here for all the court dates in the years before this day and it’s just a beautiful, wonderful day today.”
Yet, even his mother wasn’t sure what she would say to him when she say her son for the first time as a free man in nearly three decades. “I don’t know. I wanna squeeze him. I’m gonna squeeze him, that’s my baby son,” Jones explains.
The size of the crowd even took Schand by surprise.
“I’ve seen a couple innocent people come out. I don’t know if I ever saw a turn out this big though. I’m feeling a little special right now,” Schand explained adding, “I just wanna get home to my kids, my three sons…you know what I mean. When I left my three sons, they were babies. They were toddlers, now they’re grown men. I want to get home to my three sons and my grand-babies and just try to live.”
Centurion Ministries, a non-profit organization which works to overturn convictions of those whom they believe are wrongly imprisoned of crimes and sentenced to life in prison or death, played a key role in Schand’s release. They were responsible for the investigation that lead to the new witness testimony.