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Ohio Innocence Project Attorneys and Exonerees Honored at Award Ceremony by Death Penalty Advocacy Group



L to R: Attorneys Gilbert, Godsey, Howe; Exonerees Bridgeman,
Jackson, Ajamu; Attorney Mills.

Ohio Innocence Project Director Mark Godsey, OIP attorney Brian Howe and exonerees received a “Special Recognition” award on May 7 in Beverly Hills, CA.  

Cincinnati, OH—The University of Cincinnati College of Law’s Professor Mark Godsey, Ohio Innocence Project (OIP) attorney Brian Howe, and three exonerees were recognized with the “Rose Elizabeth Bird Commitment to Justice Award” at the 24th Annual Death Penalty Focus Awards dinner, held on May 7 in Beverly Hills, CA.  Death Penalty Focus, founded in 1988, is an organization committed to the abolition of the death penalty through public education, grassroots organizing and political advocacy, media outreach, and domestic and international coalition building.  The award recognizes individuals whose actions and stories bring to light the flaws in the US judicial system. 


Actors Mike Farrell and Ed Asner

Wrote Mike Farrell, the organization’s president, in an email about the award, “Your efforts which resulted in the exoneration of these men for a crime they did not commit are an incredible accomplishment. It is cases like these which further illustrate the importance of our work to end the death penalty.”  Farrell, an actor and activist, is well-known for his role as Captain B.J. Honeycutt from the hit-TV show M.A.S.H.  Event attendees included: Ed Asner, known for his Emmy Award-winnign role as Lou Grant during the 70s and early 80s on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and spin-off "Lou Grant and as Ed Wunclear on "The Boondocks', among many other film and TV roles; actress Amy Brenneman, known for her role in the TV-series "Judging Amy", Violet Turner in "Private Practice", and Laurie Garvey in HBO's "The Leftovers"; Larry Flynt, Jr., publisher and president of Larry Flynt Publications; and many others.

Godsey and Howe were recognized for their representation of Ricky Jackson. The OIP’s investigation also ultimately freed Jackson’s co-defendants, Wiley Bridgeman and Kwame (Bridgeman) Ajamu, who—along with Jackson—were honored for their courage and commitment.  The men together served over 100 years in prison for a crime they did not commit; many of those years were spent on death row. Jackson has the tragic distinction of setting the record for the longest-serving person to be exonerated in U.S. history. They were exonerated in November 2014 after a key prosecution witness, Eddie Vernon, recanted his story that he saw the men shoot and kill Cleveland, OH businessman Harold Franks in 1975.

In addition to the OIP team and exonerees, several other individuals and organizations were recognized for their work at the event. Awardees included Dale Baich, an Assistant Federal Public Defender, who defended Joseph Wood, a man whose botched two-hour execution in Arizona last year was deemed by many to violate the Eighth Amendment; Rabbi Leonard Beerman, a founder of the DPF and lifelong opponent of capital punishment; and the program “Death Row Stories,” an 8-part CNN series exploring cases that pose hard questions about capital punishment and the justice system.

Attorneys for the exonerees are: Mark Godsey, Brian Howe'08, David Mills, Terry Gilbert


Actress Amy Brenneman.

About the Lois and Richard Rosenthal Institute for Justice/Ohio Innocence Project

Harnessing the energy and intellect of law students as its driving force, the OIP seeks to identify and assist inmates in Ohio prisons who are actually innocent of the crimes they were convicted of committing.  Innocence Projects across the country have freed more than hundreds of wrongfully convicted inmates to date. The Ohio Innocence Project to date has helped 23 individuals obtain their long-sought freedom.

Read more about Ricky Jackson’s story

Learn more about the Ohio Innocence Project.

OIP Nets Another Triple Win; Defendants To Be Set Free After 18 Years in Prison


Legal advocacy from the Ohio Innocence Project at the University of Cincinnati has helped set three men wrongfully imprisoned for murder on the path to freedom.

Cincinnati — Today three men are one step closer to freedom after being wrongly incarcerated for 18 years.  Derrick Wheatt, Laurese Glover and Eugene Johnson had their convictions for the 1995 murder of Clifton Hudson Jr. thrown out after nearly a decade of legal advocacy from the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP). 

Judge Nancy Margaret Russo, Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, threw out the conviction, granted a new trial and set bond. The OIP expects bond to be met today, which will result in their clients' immediate release.

Their impending freedom came after a key eyewitness recanted her testimony and the revelation that information from police reports that cast doubt on the defendants’ guilt had not been disclosed to the trial team years earlier.  Today’s win marks the second triple exoneration for the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP), which operates out of the University of Cincinnati’s Rosenthal Institute for Justice in the College of Law. To date, the OIP has freed 23 people on grounds of innocence, who together served more than 500 years in prison for crimes they did not commit.   

 “We’re excited about today’s event, but even more excited for our clients,” said Mark Godsey, the Daniel P. and Judith L. Carmichael Professor of Law and Director, Lois and Richard Rosenthal Institute for Justice/Ohio Innocence Project. “They have been fighting to prove their innocence for nearly 20 years. They had tried for exoneration twice before, and had come close in the past.  OIP has worked on the case since 2006, and are happy to be with them as they finally taste their long-sought freedom.” 

The OIP represented defendants Wheatt and Glover; Johnson was represented by attorneys Brett  Murner and Jim Valentine. Additionally, co-counsel on this case was Carmen Naso, Senior Instructor of Law, and the law students at the Milton A. Kramer Law Clinic, Case Western Reserve School of Law in Cleveland, OH. The OIP and Kramer Law Clinic partnered on this case and plan to work together on additional cases in the future.

“UC donors who contributed to the UC OIP’s tremendous success provided case workers with the funds needed to facilitate their pursuit of justice,” said UC Foundation President Rodney M. Grabowski. “Since its founding in 2003, more than 600 donors have contributed more than $5.3 million toward the OIP’s efforts. We are forever grateful for their generosity.”

 

A Murder Many Years Ago

On February 10, 1995, in East Cleveland, Ohio, 19-year-old Clifton Hudson Jr. was found murdered, shot multiple times. At the time, witnesses reported seeing a person wearing dark clothing and a dark hat at the scene. Three juveniles—Wheatt, Glover and Johnson—happened to be near the scene. But, they emphasized, when the shooting started, they sped off. All three later provided the police with descriptions of the shooter that matched the basic descriptions given by other witnesses. But in a twist of events, they were charged with the crime.

A year later in 1996, the three were convicted of Hudson’s murder, based on their presence at the scene and identification by Tamika Harris, then a 14-year-old. Harris originally reported to police that she saw the shooter get in and out of the defendants’ truck; but, she insisted, she never saw the shooter’s face. It was this tip, though, that led to the group’s initial arrest.

At the trial, Harris changed her story, admitting that she never saw the shooter actually get in or out of the truck. She testified, however, that she could positively identify Eugene Johnson as the shooter. Additionally, the prosecution found what it alleged to be gunshot residue on Wheatt and Johnson. They offered to completely drop charges against Glover if he testified against his friends and also offered Wheatt probation for his testimony. Both refused and continued to assert their innocence. Unfortunately, they were convicted; Wheatt and Johnson were sentenced to 18 years to life in prison; Glover was sentenced to 15 years to life.

 

Finding Grounds for a New Trial

Through the years the three men continued to maintain their innocence. Then in 2004, Johnson’s attorneys, Murner and Valentine, filed a motion for a new trial on the grounds that Harris had recanted her testimony. Now an adult and in nursing school, she admitted she could not see the shooter’s face from where she stood and that she never saw anyone get in or out of the truck.

She relayed that when she went to the police station years earlier, the officers told her they had found the people responsible, showed her photos of the three defendants, and asked which of the three was the shooter. Harris said she picked the one whose jacket was closest to the one she saw: Johnson’s.   Though the trial court granted a new trial on this basis, it was overturned on appeal, in part because of the alleged gunshot residue evidence.

Two years later in 2006, the OIP accepted the case. Attorneys and fellows spent hundreds of hours reviewing evidence, interviewing potential witnesses and filing motions. In fact, Brian Howe, now the attorney of record, previously worked on this case as an OIP fellow. 

In 2009, OIP attorney David Laing filed another new trial motion based on advancements in knowledge about gunshot residue.  Specifically, the type of testing used in 1995 is known to be particularly prone to false positives from other items, and is no longer used by the FBI.  Further, recent studies showed the high likelihood of gunshot residue contamination from police sources, especially when the tests are not performed on scene or immediately upon arrest.  This motion, however, was denied. 

Late in 2013 a break in the case came when the OIP received the police reports.  The reports included information that was not raised at the original trial, including the existence of two witnesses who confirmed that the shooter came from a nearby post office lot, not the defendants’ truck.  One of those witnesses even claimed he recognized the shooter as a sibling of one of his classmates.  The reports also showed that unknown people in a different car had shot at the victim's brother just days before the crime, and that someone had threatened the victim himself the day before the murder. There was no known connection between any of those threats and the defendants. 

The OIP, on behalf of the defendants, filed another new trial motion on the basis that this information was never disclosed to the defense.  A hearing on the motion was held on Jan. 29, 2015, led by OIP attorney Brian Howe and the Kramer Clinic’s Carmen Naso.  “The evidence at the hearing was overwhelming,” said Howe. “None of these men should have ever been convicted."  

A Day Worth Waiting For

“This has been a long day coming for Mr. Johnson, Mr. Wheatt and Mr. Glover,” said Howe. “I know it must be an incredible feeling. It is particularly important and gratifying for me because I worked on the gunshot residue motions as an OIP fellow. It’s incredible to see all of our hard work come to fruition.”

Special thanks to the many individuals who spent hundreds of hours working on this case over the years. The list includes attorneys: Brian Howe, David Laing, and Carrie Wood; and student fellows: Shabnam Allen, Nicole Billec, Amanda Bleiler, Scott Brenner, Chris Brinkman, Chris Brown, Eric Gooding, John Hill, Matt Katz, Eric Kmetz, Amanda Rieger, Bryant Strayer, Queenie Takougang, and Brandon Brown, Amanda Sanders and Shaun McPherron, who spent significant time in East Cleveland last summer canvassing the neighborhood speaking to witnesses.

OIP Gets Triple Exoneration in Death Penalty case; Longest-serving Person to be Exonerated in U.S. History Set Free


Cincinnati, OH—“I … was sentenced to death by electrocution for a crime I didn’t commit,” said Ricky Jackson, testifying on the witness stand Tuesday, November 18, 2014, about spending nearly 40 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Jackson was exonerated that day, due to the relentless hard work of the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP). He has the tragic distinction of setting the record for the longest-serving person to be exonerated in U.S. history; Jackson and co-defendants Wiley and Ronnie Bridgeman, together served over 100 years in prison.

Jackson will be freed officially on Friday, November 21, 2014. Terry Gilbert and David Mills, attorneys for the Bridgemans, are expected to ask the Cuyahoga County prosecutors to drop the case against the brothers. One of the Bridgeman brothers is still behind bars. 

A Frightening Beginning

In 1975 Jackson and the Bridgeman brothers were convicted of killing a money-order collector at a Cleveland grocery store. All three received the death penalty and came close to execution. It is now known that the convictions were based on a lie by a then 12-year-old boy Eddie Vernon, who helped build the case against them. Vernon recently recanted his story. As reported in The Cleveland Plain Dealer article, Vernon, this week, told Judge Richard McMonagle, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, that he lied to the police, prosecutors and juries when he was a boy. He shared that all of the information was fed to him by the police. He didn’t have any knowledge about what happened at the scene of the crime; in fact, he had been on a bus with several school friends at the time of the incident and did not see anything transpire. 

In the Cleveland Plain Dealer article Vernon shared that he hid the lies for years, saying the detectives told him that if he mentioned what he did, they would put his parents in prison for perjury.

OIP’s Exhaustive Investigation Was Key

OIP staff attorney Brian Howe’10 investigated and litigated the case, previously handled by Carrie Wood ‘05. Howe conducted an exhaustive investigation, including finding new witnesses for the 40-year-old case by literally knocking on random doors in the neighborhood where it happened and asking “Were you around in 1975? You know anyone who knows anything about that case?” Jodi Shorr, OIP administrative director, OIP student fellows over the years, and private investigators provided additional, crucial support.

In particular, noted OIP director Mark Godsey in an email to the College of Law community about the victory, OIP fellow Scott Crowley ‘11 took particular notice of the case in 2010, among the hundreds the group receives each year. He pressed the attorneys to keep it open and to continue digging because he had a feeling something wasn’t quite right. His persistence paid off.

Then, in 2011 undergraduate intern Gretchen Schrader, now herself a law student in Indiana, was assigned the Jackson case as a special project. Frustrated that the City of Cleveland wasn’t responding to public records requests, Schrader continued to dig and dig until she got all of the records needed in the case. Commented Godsey, “It was Gretchen who obtained the vital information that would eventually break open the case.”

Sierra Merida’14, another OIP fellow, spent many hours on the phone with potential witnesses, found through Schrader’s work. She developed a strong rapport with the community of witnesses and was able to get them to speak openly about the case.

An Amazing Moment

The Tuesday hearing, which was scheduled because Jackson was seeking a new trial based on Vernon’s attempt to correct the lie he told years before, started with the State offering to consider a deal for a plea to time served and the ability to walk free immediately. Jackson, however, said “I don’t need more time to think about it. I am an innocent man. I will not take the deal.”  He felt that he couldn’t lie to walk free –not for himself or the other victims in the case.

Said Godsey, the biggest moment of surprise came in the afternoon while waiting for closing arguments to start. The prosecutors did not return after the court recess. When they eventually appeared, the entire team entered and announced that the case was over. They had to concede the obvious and drop all charges against Jackson.  “The OIP has never had a moment like that in any of our cases where it happens right there in court in an unexpected way. We’re used to finding out that we won through some sort of electronic filing from the court long after the hearing is over,” said Godsey.

Congratulations to the legions of OIP alumni and attorneys who had a hand in this case: Gabrielle Carrier, Donald Clancy, John Markus, Julie Payne, Lacy Maerker, Caity Brown, Katie Barrett, Lauren Staley, Andrew Cleves, Sean Martz, Elise Lucas Elam, Kurt Gee, John Kennedy, Carrie Wood, Brian Howe, and many others.

Those wishing to support the OIP to help continue its work to free the innocent can do so at uc.edu/give .

Read how your donations impacted this case. Private Donations Help Free Jackson

Links to article about story:

See NBC Nightly News story

Extended video of Ricky Jackson release/Cleveland.com

See video of Ricky Jackson and Wiley Bridgman released

Read ABC News story

Ohio Inmate to be freed after 40 years behind bars with help from UC's OIP/WCPO

A free man: Ricky Jackson to leave prison 30 years after a boy’s lie helped put him behind bars.

Ohio Men Wrongly Convicted of Murder After 39 Years Released

In Today's National Record-Breaking Exoneration, Prosecutors Stepped Up to Correct a "Lie from the Pits of Hell" Huffington Post editorial

This Week in Innocence: Ricky Jackson to be Released Tomorrow After 39 Years in Prison/Washington Post

OIP Lecture: CSI and Cognitive Bias


Date:  Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Time: 12:10 p.m.
Location: College of Law – Room 114
CLE: Application for 1 hour of general CLE has been submitted to Ohio and Kentucky; approval is expected.
Food:  Pizza will be provided


About the Program
Dr. Itiel Dror has performed groundbreaking research revealing how cognitive bias makes many types of crime scene investigation expert testimony far less reliable than the criminal justice system and the public generally believe. His research shows that the way experts think—and the way the brain works—makes scientific testimony highly prone to human error.  Dror’s research was pivotal to the National Academy of Sciences report in 2009 recommending widespread reform to forensic disciplines in the U.S.  He will discuss his findings and make recommendations to improve the state of forensics moving forward.

About the Speaker
Dr. Itiel Dror is the Senior Cognitive Neuroscience Researcher at the University College London.  He studies how the cognitive architecture that underpins expertise affects how experts perceive and interpret information. His research demonstrates the influence of contextual information on the judgments and decision making of investigators; for example, he has shown that fingerprint and DNA experts can reach different conclusions when the same evidence is presented within different extraneous contexts.
Dr. Dror has published over 100 research articles, and has been extensively cited in the U.S. National Academy of Sciences Report on Forensic Science and the United Kingdom Fingerprint Public Inquiry. He currently is a member of the Forensic Human Factor Group recently established by U.S. National Institute of Justice (NIJ) & the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).


This event is sponsored by the The Rosenthal Institute for Justice/the Ohio Innocence Project and the College of Law’s Criminal Law Society

The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime


Adrian Raine

The Glenn M. Weaver Institute of Law and Psychiatry presents

Adrian Raine, Departments of Criminology, Psychiatry and Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, and Visiting Fellow, University of Cambridge.

Date: October 1, 2014
Time: 4:00 - 6:00 p.m.
Location: College of Law - Room 114
CLE: 2 CLE credits (requested), approval is expected.

This program is free and no registration is required.

Program Description

The very rapid developments taking place in the neuroscience of crime and violence are creating an uncomfortable tension between our concepts of responsibility and retribution on the one hand, and understanding and mercy on the other. This talk outlines implications of this body of knowledge not just for research, but also for our future conceptualization of moral responsibility, free will, and punishment. If the neural circuitry underlying morality is compromised in offenders, how moral is it of us to punish prisoners as much as we do? Can biological risk factors help better predict future violence? And how can we improve the brain to reduce violence?

 

OIP Client Dewey Jones Exonerated; 17th Person Freed through Efforts of OIP


Congratulations to the OIP team and client Dewey Jones who was exonerated Thursday, January 30, 2014. Summit County (OH) Judge Mary Margaret Rowland dismissed aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping, and aggravated robbery charges against Jones, who spent 20 years in prison. Jones was convicted in 1993 murder of 71-year-old Neil Rankin. The OIP’s investigation uncovered police misconduct, and DNA testing eventually came back and proved his innocence.

Jones is the 17th  person freed by OIP efforts.  Together, OIP clients have spent nearly 300 years in prison for crimes they did not commit.

Students who worked on this case over the years include: Shabby Allen, Amanda Bleiler, Julie Kathman, Eric Kmetz, Bryant Strayer, Scott Brenner and Sarvani Prasad, Eric Gooding and Brian Howe, Chris Brown and Matt Katz, Amanda Rieger and Nicole Billec, Ryan McGraw, and Stacey Skuza.

For more information about the case:

OIP Celebrates 2nd Victory for the David Ayers Case


Current and former Ohio Innocence Project fellows, along with staff, celebrate an additional win in the case of David Ayers, wrongly convicted of murder in 2000. Sentenced to life in prison without parole for aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, and aggravated burglary, he was exonerated in 2011. Friday, March 8, Ayers was awarded $13.2 million by a federal jury, among the top 10 ever awarded for a wrongful conviction case.

Read the Cincinnati Enquirer story: Innocence Project Client Gets $13 Million

Talk: Environmental Context: Neighborhood Matters for Human Health and Disease


Kenneth Olden, PhD, Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment

"Environmental Context: Neighborhood Matters for Human Health and Disease

Date: March 28, 2013

Time:  12:15 -  1:15 p.m.

Location:  Room 118

About Dr. Ken Olden

Dr. Ken Olden joined the National Center for Environmental Assessment in July 2012 with a strong legacy of promoting scientific excellence in environmental health. From 1991-2005, Olden served as the Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Toxicology Program (NTP) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He made history in this role as the first African American to direct one of the National Institutes of Health. In 2005, he returned to his research position as chief of The Metastasis Group in the Laboratory of Molecular Carcinogenesis at the NIEHS, and for academic year 2006-2007, held the position of Yerby Visiting Professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. Most recently, Ken served as the Founding Dean of the School of Public Health at the Hunter College, City University of New York.

He has published extensively in peer-reviewed literature, chaired or co-chaired numerous national and international meetings, and has been an invited speaker, often a keynote, at more than 200 symposia. Dr. Olden has won a long list of honors and awards including the Presidential Distinguished Executive Rank Award, the Presidential Meritorious Executive Rank Award for sustained extraordinary accomplishments, the Toxicology Forum’s Distinguished Fellow Award, the HHS Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award, the American College of Toxicology’s First Distinguished Service Award, and the National Minority Health Leadership Award. Alone among institute directors, he was awarded three of the most prestigious awards in public health—the Calver Award (2002), the Sedgwick Medal (2004), and the Julius B. Richmond Award (2005). Most recently, he received the Cato T. Laurencin MD, PhD Lifetime Research Award from the National Medical Association Institute, the largest and oldest national organization representing African American physicians and their patients in the United States.

He was elected to membership in the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences in 1994 and appointed member of the Visiting Committee for the Harvard University Board of Overseers from 2007-2010.

Dr. Olden holds the following degrees:

  • Temple University, Philadelphia, P.H.D., Cell Biology and Biochemistry, 1970. 
  • University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, M.S., Genetics. 
  • Knoxville College, B.S., Biology.

Additionally, Ken has numerous honorary degrees from several prestigious colleges and universities.

Doug Prade Exonerated, Walked Free After 15 Years Thanks to Work of OIP


On January 29, 2013 former Akron Police Captain Douglas Prade—and a longtime OIP client—was exonerated. He walked free after 15 years in prison for the murder of his ex-wife.  DNA testing conducted by the OIP, along with additional extensive investigation over the course of a decade, proved his innocence.  Prade is the 16th person freed through the work of the OIP.

Carrie Wood was the OIP staff attorney who handled the case. Wrote Professor Mark Godsey, director of the OIP, in an email about the case, “[she] knocked it out of the park.  Carrie's dedication and talent are an inspiration to her students and clients alike, and we are lucky to have her at this law school.”  OIP was assisted by representatives from the Cleveland law firm of Jones Day as co-counsel.

Over the course of many years numerous students assisted on the case. Some are now public defenders, federal prosecutors, local prosecutors in Cincinnati, Wall Street attorneys, big firm attorneys in Cincinnati, and in-house counsel at Proctor and Gamble, to name a few.  Some of them are seasoned and very successful attorneys now, who got their first taste of the law with the OIP.  All of them played a major role in freeing Douglas Prade and keeping his hopes alive for the past decade. Most recently, 3L Jimmy Harrison, 3L Levi Daly, 2L Thomas Styslinger, and 2L Scott Leaman carried the torch for Douglas.

Media Reports on Prade Case