Six Exonerations from Ohio's Death Row
(Content from Death Penalty Information Center's Innocence List)Gary Beeman Convicted: 1976, Acquitted: 1979 - Beeman was convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to death. He maintained that he was innocent and that Claire Liuzzo, an escaped prisoner who testified as the main prosecution witness at Beeman's first trial, was the actual killer. In 1978 the District Court of Appeals granted Beeman a new trial, finding that Beeman's right to cross-examine Liuzzo had been unfairly restricted at his first trial. On retrial five witnesses testified that they heard Liuzzo confess to the murder and Beeman was acquitted. (Ashtabula Star Beacon, Oct. 5, 1979, p.1; Sept. 29, 1979, p.14).
Dale Johnston Convicted: 1984, Charges Dismissed: 1990 - Johnston was sentenced to death for the murder of his stepdaughter and her fiancee. His conviction was overturned in 1988 by the Ohio Supreme Court because the prosecution withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense, and because one witness had been hypnotized. The state later dropped charges against Johnston. (State v. Johnson, 529 N.E.2d 898 (Ohio 1988)).
Timothy Howard Convicted: 1976, Charges Dismissed: 2003 - Timothy Howard was released from prison on April 23, 2003 when Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Michael H. Watson overturned his conviction citing evidence not disclosed or available during the 1977 trial. The new evidence was gathered through Freedom of Information requests filed by Howard. Howard was able to uncover new fingerprint evidence and conflicting witness statements made to the FBI that were not made available to defense attorneys during the his trial in 1977. Howard Spent 26 years behind bars, a portion of which time he spent on Ohio’s death row before the death penalty was ruled unconstitutional in the state. Howard’s attorney James D. Owen said that the long legal fight ended abruptly and with little fanfare when Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien, “in the interest of justice,” agreed to dismiss all charges against Howard and his codefendant, Gary Lamar James (The Columbus Dispatch, July 18, 2003). Howard was awarded $2.5 million in July of 2006 as compensation for his wrongful conviction, the largest sum ever paid to a wrongly convicted defendant in Ohio. (Associated Press, March, 19, 2007).
Gary Lamar James Convicted: 1976, Charges Dismissed: 2003 - Timothy Howard and Gary James were arrested in December, 1976 for a Columbus, Ohio bank robbery in which one of the bank guards was murdered. Both men maintained their innocence throughout the trial. In 1978, Ohio's death penalty was held to be unconstitutional and all death row inmates were re-sentenced. Howard and James were given life sentences. With funding from Centurion Ministries of New Jersey, Howard and James were subsequently able to uncover new evidence not made available to their defense attorneys at the time of their trial, including conflicting witness statements and fingerprints. James agreed to and passed a state-administered polygraph test, prompting Franklin County prosecutor Ron O'Brien to dismiss all charges "in the interest of justice." Howard was freed earlier on April 23 when Franklin County Common Pleas judge Michael Watson overturned his conviction, citing evidence not disclosed or available at trial. The state dropped its appeal of the judge's ruling, thereby clearing him of the same charges. While O'Brien said that releasing the two men was an admission of a 26-year-old unsolved murder and robbery, "[w]e don't want anybody in prison serving time for something they didn't do." (Columbus Dispatch, July 16, 18, and 21, 2003)
Derrick Jamison Convicted: 1985, Charges Dismissed: 2005 - On February 28, 2005, Ohio Common Pleas Judge Richard Niehaus dismissed all charges against Derrick Jamison for the murder of a Cincinnati bartender after prosecutors elected not to retry him in the case. (Associated Press, March 3, 2005). On death row for 17 years, Jamison was a granted a new trial in 2002 when a court ruled that the prosecution had withheld critical eyewitness statements and other evidence from the defense. Jamison was originally convicted and sentenced to death in 1985 based in part on the testimony of Charles Howell, a co-defendant who received a lesser sentence in exchange for his testimony against Jamison. The prosecution withheld statements that contradicted Howell’s testimony and that would have undermined the prosecution’s theory of how the victim died, and would have pointed to other possible suspects for the murder. A federal judge ordered a new trial for Jamison in 2000, holding that Hamilton County Prosecutors withheld key evidence. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision in 2002 (Jamison v. Collins, 291 F.3d 380 (6th Cir. 2002)). One of the withheld statements involved James Suggs, an eyewitness to the robbery. Suggs testified at trial that he had been unable to make a positive identification when the police showed him a photo array of suspects. In fact, police records show that Suggs identified two suspects, neither of which was Derrick Jamison. Additional withheld evidence consisted of a series of discrepancies between Jamison’s physical characteristics and the descriptions of the perpetrators given to police investigators by eyewitnesses. The co-defendant, Howell recently testified that he could not remember anything about the crime, and state prosecutors decided not to proceed against Jamison. He remains incarcerated on other unrelated charges.
Joe D'Ambrosio Convicted: 1989, Charges dismissed: 2012 - On January 23, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by the state of Ohio challenging the unconditional writ of habeas corpus and bar to the re-prosecution of Joe D'Ambrosio, thus ending the capital case. He has now been freed from death row with all charges dismissed. A federal District Court had first overturned D'Ambrosio's conviction in 2006 because the state had withheld key evidence from the defense. The federal court originally allowed the state to re-prosecute him, but just before trial the state revealed the existence of even more important evidence and requested further delay. Also the state did not divulge in a timely manner that the key witness against D'Ambrosio had died. In 2010, the District Court barred D’Ambrosio’s re-prosecution because of the prosecutors’ misconduct. The court concluded that these developments biased D'Ambrosio's chances for a fair trial, and hence the state was barred from retrying him. District Court Judge Kathleen O'Malley wrote: “For 20 years, the State held D’Ambrosio on death row, despite wrongfully withholding evidence that ‘would have substantially increased a reasonable juror’s doubt of D’Ambrosio’s guilt.’ Despite being ordered to do so by this Court … the State still failed to turn over all relevant and material evidence relating to the crime of which D’Ambrosio was convicted. Then, once it was ordered to provide D’Ambrosio a constitutional trial or release him within 180 days, the State did neither. During those 180 days, the State engaged in substantial inequitable conduct, wrongfully retaining and delaying the production of yet more potentially exculpatory evidence… To fail to bar retrial in such extraordinary circumstances surely would fail to serve the interests of justice.”
In 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld the bar to re-prosecution. (D'Ambrosio v. Bagley, No. 10-3247, Aug. 29, 2011). Even the dissent referred to the state's "remarkable inability to competently prosecute D'Ambrosio." The state appealed this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court mainly on jurisdictional grounds, but was denied certiorari on Jan. 23. (Bagley v. D'Ambrosio, No. 11-672, denying cert.).
D'Ambrosio is 140th former death row inmate to be exonerated since 1973 and the 6th from Ohio.