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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.

2015 Judge in Residence Program featuring the Hon. Solomon Oliver, Jr.


Event Dates: March 25-27, 2015

All School Talk: Thank God for Life Tenure

Date: March 26, 2015 at 12:15 p.m.

(View schedule) (pdf)

About Solomon Oliver, Jr., Chief Judge, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio

Judge Solomon Oliver, Jr. was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio by President William Clinton on May 9, 1994.  He has served as Chief Judge of that court since June 1, 2010.

Judge  Oliver  was  born  in Bessemer,  Alabama,  the fourth  of  ten children  of Reverend Solomon Oliver and Mrs. Willie Lee Oliver. He attended the segregated public schools of Bessemer, graduating from J. S. Abrams High School in 1965.

Oliver graduated from the College of Wooster with honors in 1969, majoring in philosophy and political science.  He received a J.D. degree from New York University in 1972, and a master’s degree in political science from Case Western Reserve University in 1974.

Oliver served as Assistant Professor of Political Science at the College of Wooster from 1972 to 1975. From 1975 to 1976, he served as a law clerk to the late Judge William H. Hastie of the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals.  Judge Hastie was the first African American to serve as an Article Ill judge.  From 1976 to 1982, Oliver served with the U.S. Justice Department as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Cleveland.  From July, 1978 to March, 1982, he was Chief of the Civil Section of the United States Attorney's Office.  In March of 1982, he became Chief of Appellate Litigation in that office. Oliver joined Cleveland-Marshall College of Law of Cleveland State University as a faculty member in the fall of 1982.  From May, 1991 to May, 1994, he served as Associate Dean of Faculty and Administration at the Law School.

Judge Oliver has written articles and lectured on a wide range of topics at colleges and universities, at continuing legal education seminars and at judicial conferences. Judge Oliver was especially gratified to deliver a keynote address entitled, "The Role of Judicial Review in a Democracy" in March, 1995 at a conference of East African judges in Arusha, Tanzania.  His most recent publications include an article on educating law students for the practice of law, an article on alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and a chapter on summary judgment.

Oliver has received various awards, including the Distinguished Alumni Award from the College of Wooster and the Distinguished Alumni Award from New York University Black, Latino, Asian Pacific American Law Alumni Association. He has also received an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from the University of Akron and an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from New England School of Law-Boston.

Judge Oliver previously served as a member of the Judicial Conference of the United States, the policy-making body of the federa1judiciary, and currently serves on its Advisory Committee on Civil Rules.  He is a member of the American Law Institute, the American Bar Foundation and the Board of Trustees of the College of Wooster.  He previously served as Chair of the Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar and is its Immediate Past Chair. He has also co-chaired the ABA Litigation Section's Minority Trial Lawyer Committee.

Christopher Varner, '96 Elected Tennessee Bar Foundation Fellow


Christopher T. Varner has recently been elected a Fellow of the Tennessee Bar Foundation, an association of 801 attorneys across the state. Invitations to membership, which is a position of honor, were extended to 29 attorneys this year by the Board of Trustees. The introduction of new Fellows took place at the annual Fellows' Dinner in Nashville.

The Bar Foundation's purpose is two-fold: to honor attorneys who have distinguished themselves in the profession and to administer a grant making program. That project, known by its acronym “IOLTA” (Interest On Lawyers' Trust Accounts), has awarded grants in excess of $20,000,000 to law-related, public interest projects throughout Tennessee.

Mr. Varner is a partner in the firm of Evans Harrison Hackett, PLLC and has been practicing law in Chattanooga, Tennessee for 19 years. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and of the University of Cincinnati College of Law.

 

Alum and Brinks Attorney Rashad L. Morgan, '06 Joins The National Black Lawyers–Top 100


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C.—Rashad L. Morgan, an attorney at intellectual property law firm Brinks Gilson & Lione, was recently invited to join The National Black Lawyers–Top 100, a professional honorary organization composed of the top 100 black lawyers from each state.

Members of The National Black Lawyers–Top 100 exemplify superior qualifications of leadership, reputation, influence, and performance.

Eligibility criteria include nominations from one’s peers, board certification in the attorney's respective area of specialty, leadership in other legal organizations, and rankings by leading national evaluation organizations.

Trained as a chemical engineer, Morgan focuses on patent litigation and prosecution for domestic and international clients with cutting-edge, complex technologies. His legal experience includes landmark litigation at the Federal Circuit and at the International Trade Commission.

Along with helping clients succeed in today’s evolving patent landscape, Morgan is deeply committed to increasing diversity in the law. Active in the North Carolina State Bar Association’s Legal LINK diversity pipeline program, Morgan also participates in programs including The Just the Beginning Foundation and Legal Prep Charter Academies. He provides volunteer legal assistance through Lawyers for the Creative Arts, and has mentored minority attorneys through The Chicago Committee. Morgan also volunteers for Habitat for Humanity and serves on Brinks’ recruiting, hiring, and diversity committees.

The mission of The National Black Lawyers–Top 100 is to promote excellence in the legal profession for accomplished black attorneys in the United States through advocacy training, marketing, networking opportunities, and continuing legal education. The invitation-only organization highlights its membership by providing a public online search tool that identifies the top black attorneys in 20 areas of legal specialty. More information is at www.nbltop100.org.

Michael Stewart, ’07 received the designation as “Rising Stars” by the 2015 publication of Ohio Super Lawyers


(SANDUSKY, Ohio) - Recently three attorneys at the law firm, Murray & Murray Co., L.P.A., received the designation as “Rising Stars” by the 2015 publication of Ohio Super Lawyers® for their outstanding legal work.

 Specifically, Ohio Super Lawyers honored Murray & Murray partners, Florence J. Murray and Leslie O. Murray, and associate attorney Michael J. Stewart, naming the group among its “2015 Rising Stars.”  “Rising Stars” undergo a rigorous selection process that begins with peer nominations by fellow attorneys.  The honor recognizes exceptional up-and-coming legal talent, as it is only awarded to attorneys who are under the age of 40 or have been practicing law for less than ten years.   Indeed, selection to the “Rising Stars” list is a rare and exceptional accolade, as no more than 2.5 percent of lawyers in the State of Ohio are named to the list each year.

ABOUT THE FIRM:       

Founded in 1931, Murray & Murray is operated by the Murray family.  The firm has fourteen attorneys including nine Murray partners.  Located in Sandusky, Ohio, Murray & Murray provides legal representation for clients throughout Ohio and offers a free initial consultation.  Involved in many landmark decisions and settlements, Murray & Murray’s main practice areas are personal injury, wrongful death, consumer protection, business litigation, and class actions.

Tad LeVan (JD cum laude, 1995) Teaches "Deposition Boot Camp" at Penn Law


(Philadelphia) –LeVan Law Group LLC founder and managing partner Peter H. “Tad” LeVan, Jr., recently created and taught an intensive 4-day workshop for law students at the University of Pennsylvania Law School entitled “Deposition Boot Camp: The Art of Taking, Defending and Preparing for Depositions.”

Held from January 5-8, the workshop offered instruction on deposition procedures, examination techniques, how to deal with difficult witnesses and obstreperous opposing counsel, and best practices in taking, defending and preparing a witness for deposition. The workshop also provided the students with an opportunity to conduct and defend a full-day mock deposition, with witnesses, volunteer legal professionals and leaders, and actual deposition service providers, such as court reporters and videographers.

LeVan is a seasoned trial and appellate attorney who has tried a number of high-stakes cases against national banks, Wall Street financial institutions and a Madoff investment firm, securing settlements on behalf of injured plan participants that have exceeded $700 million. Earlier this year, he launched the firm that bears his name under a unique business model, offering flat-fee and other predictable alternative fee structures in high-stakes litigation matters.

For more information on LeVan Law Group, visit www.levanlawgroup.com.

Jennifer Bennett, '94 joins Day Ketterer


January 8, 2015 - Day Ketterer is delighted to announce its merger with the employment law firm of Andrews & Wyatt. Joining Day Ketterer from Andrews & Wyatt is Jennifer Bennett (J.D. 1994). Jennifer Bennett is a skilled workers’ compensation attorney working to defend self-insured and state-funded employers in workers’ compensation claims and related litigation before in claims involving back injuries, repetitive motion, and other common healthcare industry workplace injury claims.

Day Ketterer is a Crain’s Cleveland Top 30 law firm with locations in Canton, Hudson, Toledo, Akron, and Youngstown, serving clients across Ohio. We have a proud history of being one of the oldest firms in Ohio. Our practice areas include Bankruptcy and Corporate Restructuring Law, Banking Law, Business Law, Education Law, Environmental Law, Estate Planning, Probate & Trust Administration, Family Law, Labor and Employment, Litigation, Non-Profit and Foundations, Oil and Gas, Real Estate, Taxation, and Workers’ Compensation. Learn more about our attorneys, services, and history by visiting www.DayKetterer.com, or calling (330) 455-0173.

Chad Austin '97 promoted to the grade of Colonel in the USAF Reserve JAG Corps


Chad Austin '97 was recently selected for promotion to the grade of Colonel in the United States Air Force Reserve JAG Corps.

Col (sel) Austin is attached to 12th Air Force located at Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ.  In his civilian capacity Chad serves as an Associate Professor of Law at the United States Air Force Academy.  He recalls his UC Law commencement speaker saying, "Confucius says find a job you love and never work a day in your life." Chad found two and still has yet to work a day

Herbert B. Weiss, '65 appointed by Mayor John Cranley to the City of Cincinnati Historic Conservation Board


Herbert B. Weiss, a partner in the Real Estate Group at Keating Muething & Klekamp PLL (KMK Law®), has been appointed by Mayor John Cranley to the City of Cincinnati Historic Conservation Board. The Historic Conservation Board, established by ordinance in 1980, consists of seven members. The Board must include at least one professional historic preservationist, one historian, two architects, one attorney, one person engaged in the real estate or development business, and one economist.

Weiss earned his J.D. from the University of Cincinnati School of Law (1965), where he served on the Editorial Board of the Law Review, and his B.A. from the University of Cincinnati (1962).

Kari K. Hall, '03 promoted to Counsel at BuckleySandler LLP


BuckleySandler LLP Announces Attorney Promotions; Associate Promoted to Counsel

WASHINGTON, DC--(Marketwired - Jan 6, 2015) - BuckleySandler LLP announced today that Kari K. Hall, along with seven other associates, residents in the firm's Washington, DC and Los Angeles offices, has been promoted to Counsel, effective January 1, 2015.

Kari K. Hal ‘03 counsels financial services companies on a variety of regulatory compliance and risk management matters, with a focus on fair lending, fair servicing, UDAAP, Community Reinvestment Act, Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, deposit account and electronic card issues. Hall represents clients in internal reviews and investigations, as well as examinations, investigations and enforcement actions by both federal and state regulators. She received a J.D. from the University of Cincinnati College of Law (2003) and a B.S. from Miami University (1996).