Another prisoner whose case was championed by Kim Kardashian is free. Momolu Stewart, who spent two decades behind bars for murder, has been released from prison. Here’s what you need to know.
It’s 2019 and Kim Kardashian is fast becoming less a reality television star and more of an advocate for criminal justice reform. A year after lobbying President Donald Trump to pardon Alice Marie Johnson, Kim wrote a letter in support of Momolu Stewart, a 39-year old Washington, D.C. inmate. Momolu, who spent nearly 23 years in jail after being convicted of murder when he was 16, was granted his release on Oct. 4 after his life sentence was reduced. He took his first steps of freedom on Monday, Oct. 7. “Just appreciate the things that was taken away from me when I was such a young man,” he told Oxygen.com after he was freed. “You know, just smell the trees, just live life, and honor life.”
“Cause I was buried alive. So now I’ve been resurrected. I’m back, and I’m better,” he added. As Momolu adjusts to life outside of bars, here’s what you need to know about his case, what’s next for him, and how Kim Kardashian helped him attain freedom.
1. He was convicted of murder in 1999 — when he was a teen. On New Year’s Day 1997, Momolu and another teenager confronted 22-year-old Mark Rosebure at an apartment building in Southeast Washington, according to the Washington Post. Both teens were armed. When Mark made a gesture to his waistband, the teens shot him multiple times. The teens said Mark had robbed them earlier and were confronting him over that. Prosecutors disputed the claim and said the teens were tried to rob Rosebure when he was killed. In 1999, Momolu was convicted of murder and given a life sentence.
2. Kim Kardashian petitioned for his sentence to be reduced. “I write today in support of Momolu Steward, who is seeking relief under the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act of 2016,” Kim wrote in her Aug. 5 letter to DC Superior Court Judge Robert Salerno. “[He] is a model citizen who has demonstrated clear rehabilitation. However, his petition is being opposed…In 2012, the US Supreme court ruled that juveniles could no longer be sentenced to life without parole. … Without relief, Momolu will remain in prison until at least 2041 (his parole eligibility date, when he will be 61 years old….He longs to rejoin his community and be a contributing member of society, and I believe he is truly deserving of this opportunity.”
In September, the judge said he would grant Momolu’s request to have his sentences shortened.
3. His mother reportedly killed his father. “Momolu’s mother killed his father, a college professor, when he was only 6 years old, leaving him effectively orphaned, and starting a heartbreaking and traumatizing journey,” Kim wrote in her letter. “Without his father, Momolu turned to the streets for guidance.” Momolu’s mother, Gloria Smith, and stepfather, Ronald Smith, were there for his release, according to Oxygen.com.
4. Momolu appeared in 1998’s Slam. In 1998, a 17-year-old Momolu appeared in the movie Slam, engaging in a freestyle rap with Saul Williams’s character, Ray. Saul has also spoken out about Momolu’s case. “Bey, aka Momolu Stewart, was 17 at the time, serving 75-Life,” Saul wrote on Instagram last year while sharing a clip from the scene, per PEOPLE. “The case has been appealed but not acquitted, ie: still there. #Slam was about the need for criminal justice reform & an end to the war on drugs,” he continued. “The poetry lives on & so do the issues.”
5. He was released due to the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act. More than 20 inmates, including Stewart, have had petitions decided under a 2017 law called the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act, per Washington Post. The District law allows inmates who committed their crimes when they were younger than 18 and spent at least 15 years in prison a chance to have their sentences cut.
The idea is that the brains of teenagers and young adults are not fully mature and that those who offend at younger ages should not receive adult punishments of decades in prison. Many thought Momolu deserved the second chance, as more than 40 letters (including the one from Kim) were submitted on his behalf. Kareem McCraney, Momolu’s co-defendant in the case, was released previously in 2018 under the same Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act.
However, to have their sentences shortened, inmates must show signs of rehabilitation behind bars. While incarcerated, Momolu has gotten his GED in prison and has racked up over 1,400 hours of educational programs.
Now, he’s a free man. Momolu will have five years of supervised probation. If he commits another crime or violates his probation, Momolu may have to serve out the rest of his original sentence.