I read about the unbelievable details of this case this morning and wanted to share them. From the article:
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. He was first indicted for the offense in 1988.
I was curious about what the State withheld that could have prevented this wrongful conviction and was shocked at what I learned. From an article in The Plain Dealer in 2003, I found that not only had they withheld some of the details about the crime, they also withheld critical information about one of the men who implicated D’Ambrosio in the murder. It’s unlikely this information would have surfaced had it not been for a priest who took an interest in the case, Reverend Neil Kookoothe. Approximately 12 years after the murder and conviction of Mr. D’Ambrosio, Kookoothe began investigating the case. He learned from the victim’s father that his son had witnessed and reported a rape shortly before he was murdered. Kookoothe searched for rape cases around the time of the murder and was astonished to learn that the man who directed police to investigate D’Ambrosio for Anthony Klann’s murder, Paul Lewis had been charged with the rape. The one witness subpoenaed on the rape was Anthony Klann……the murder victim. Just fourteen days after D’Ambrosio was charged in the murder, the rape indictment against Lewis was dropped. Of all the cases of prosecutorial misconduct I have read, this has to be the most extreme. The prosecutor was Carmen Marino, retired in 2002. He was the prosecutor for both the rape and the murder case. He claimed that he had no memory of the rape case, which he reassigned to another assistant county prosecutor.
From the article:
The rape victim thinks his justice was traded off for Lewis’ testimony. In an interview, the victim said the moment he heard that Klann was murdered, he called Cleveland police to suggest that crime was connected to the sexual assault on him. The victim said no one followed up until last fall, when D’Ambrosio’s lawyers found him. “I was 22 years old. What did I know about the law? “asked the victim. I’m surprised no one contacted me. I thought that was pretty cold. Tony got murdered and Paul Lewis is the squeal guy on that whole case.”
Despite this information and more, it still took 7 more years before D’Ambrosio was finally released. But that didn’t stop the State from continuing to try to prosecute this case. The AG office took the case to the US Supreme court to try to appeal the ruling that forbid them from retrying the case against D’Ambrosio. It’s so outrageous that they would continue to pursue this despite the enormous level of prosecutorial misconduct. It shows how relentless they can be and their unwillingness to admit that they wrongfully convicted an innocent person.
Additional information was also withheld pertaining to the details about how the murder took place. Information from the police who first investigated the scene suggested that Klann had been killed elsewhere since there was no blood found anywhere around the creek where he was found. No signs of a struggle existed. Klann’s body had scrape marks, consistent with being dragged. This information was never provided in court and it was contrary to the witness’s version of what happened. Espinoza describes it as occurring in the creek area with D’Ambrosio “finishing him off” with a hunting knife while Klann begged for mercy. But when Kookoothe asked the coroner for photos, he noticed that there were two holes in the victim’s trachea. With such an injury no victim could have begged for mercy. Kookoothe believed the puncture wounds indicated that somebody wanted to shut Klann up. Again, none of this was ever brought up in court and had Kookoothe not taken the time to look at this case, it’s possible D’Ambrosio would have already been executed for a murder that he had nothing to do with. It’s also worth noting that Espinoza accepted a plea deal of voluntary manslaughter for his statements.
There was also a problem with the time. D’Ambrosio admitted being out with Klann, Keenan and Espinoza the Thursday before the murder, but said he was dropped of at his apartment that evening. In court, Espinoza kept changing his story about when they were out together and the prosecutor tried to make the case that they were together Friday evening and Klann was murdered early Saturday.
This case is one of many disturbing examples of prosecutorial misconduct in this country and until prosecutors are held accountable for their actions it seems it will continue. Prosecutors need to be tried for their obvious criminal actions.