February 25th, 2024

Boston mayor apologizes to Black men wrongly accused in 1989 murder that shone spotlight on racism

By Steve Leblanc, The Associated Press on December 20, 2023.

FILE — Boston Mayor Michelle Wu speaks during a Democratic election night party, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Boston. On Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2203, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu plans to formally apologize on behalf of the city to Alan Swanson and Willie Bennett for their wrongful arrests following the 1989 death of Carol Stuart, whose husband, Charles Stuart, had orchestrated her killing. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

BOSTON (AP) – Boston Mayor Michelle Wu issued a formal apology Wednesday to two Black men who were wrongly accused in a 1989 murder of a white woman, a case that coarsened divisions in a city long split along racial lines and renewed suspicion and anger directed at the police department by the city’s Black community.

“I am so sorry for what you endured,” the mayor said during a news conference. “I am so sorry for the pain that you have carried for so many years.”

Alan Swanson and Willie Bennett were wrongly named as suspects in the Oct. 23, 1989, death of Carol Stuart, whose husband, Charles Stuart, had orchestrated her killing.

Stuart, who was also white, blamed his wife’s killing ““ and his own shooting during what he portrayed as an attempted carjacking — on an unidentified Black gunman, leading to a crackdown by police in one of the city’s traditionally Black neighborhoods in pursuit of a phantom assailant.

Charles Stuart said a Black man forced his way into their car as the couple left a birthing class at a city hospital on Oct. 23. The man ordered them to drive to the city’s Mission Hill neighborhood and robbed them before shooting Carol Stuart in the head and Charles in the chest, according to Charles.

Carol Stuart, 29, died the following morning at the same hospital where the couple had attended birthing classes. The baby, delivered by cesarean section, survived just 17 days.

Charles Stuart survived the shooting, with his description of a Black attacker eventually sparking a widespread Boston police “stop and frisk” crackdown of Black men in the neighborhood, even as some investigators had already come to doubt his story.

“What was done you was unjust, unfair, racist and wrong,” Wu said Wednesday.

During the crackdown, police first arrested Swanson before ruling him out, and then took Bennett into custody. Stuart would later identify Bennett in late December. But by then, Stuart’s story had already begun to fall apart.

Swanson and Bennett denied having any involvement in Carol Stuart’s death. Charles Stuart’s brother, Matthew, eventually confessed to helping him hide the gun.

On Jan. 4, 1990, Charles Stuart parked his car on the Tobin Bridge that leads in and out of Boston and jumped, plunging to his death. His body was recovered later that day.

The Boston Globe and an HBO documentary series has cast a new spotlight on the case.

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