On Nov. 9, 2000, as Lorain Co. Common Pleas Judge Lynett M. McGough read the verdict, parole hearing officer Harold K. Miller clapped his hands once above his head and said, "Oh God!"
In the May 2000 issue of PLN we reported how Ohio prison officials uncovered evidence of a widespread parolesforsale scam. Two excons, Lynn Moore, 44, and Willie Ray Patton, 51, were indicted in September 1999 on charges of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, bribery and complicity to escape. The two were accused of contacting Ohio prisoners with upcoming parole hearings with the promise that a payment of $5,000 _ $10,000 would buy a parole release decision. Parole hearing officer Harold Miller, 63, was alleged to have granted early releases to prisoners in exchange for bribes paid to him by Patton, an allegation that he steadfastly denied.
But six months later, in March 2000, Moore pleaded guilty to two counts of bribery and Patton pleaded guilty to conspiracy, bribery, and complicity to escape. Both agreed to testify against Miller, who was arrested on March 29, 2000 and charged with engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity and 5 counts of bribery.
At trial, Moore testified that he got out of prison early after calling Patton and asking if he knew anyone who could get him released. Moore said Patton got Miller on the line in a threeway call and they discussed terms. Moore said that Patton asked for $7,000. When he told him he didn't have the money, Patton said to just get other "dope boys" who were interested in paying for a parole. Moore testified that after he brought nine interested "dope boys" to Patton, he had a parole hearing before Miller and was granted release.
Several prisoners and exprisoners testified at trial that they either bought paroles or helped draw other prisoners into the payforparole scheme. Patton, though, was the only witness who said he gave money to Miller. He testified that he paid Miller for the release of three prisoners.
Miller, who was the sole witness for the defense, testified that he didn't have a close relationship with Patton. He said that Patton's mother introduced them in 1993 when Miller was running for East Cleveland City Counsel and they may have spoken on the phone about 10 times.
But the prosecutor introduced phone records into evidence that showed that Patton called Miller's house 170 times and that Miller phoned Patton 140 times in a three-month period in 1996.
Miller also testified that he approached relatives of Dick Pugh who own a local car dealership because he was going to recommend that Pugh be released into a drug rehab program. Prosecutors contend that Miller was looking to arrange for a "good deal" on a new car before Pugh's hearing, a charge that Miller denied.
"I wanted to know the extent of his drug problem," Miller said. "It may have been wrong [to go to the car dealership], but I made the decision to stop."
The jury of five women and seven men deliberated for nine hours before returning a not guilty verdict. One juror said that they didn't believe that Patton was telling the truth on the witnesses stand. The juror asked to remain anonymous because he was afraid witness would retaliate against him. Another juror, who also asked not to be identified because she too feared reprisals, said that she believed Miller was guilty, but the prosecutor failed to prove that Miller had actually accepted, solicited, or attempted to solicit a bribe.
"We wanted to convict, but once we looked at the evidence, we couldn't find anything," she said.
Patton, who pleaded guilty to bribing Miller, is serving a five year sentence as a part of his plea bargain. Moore was given an oneyear sentence for his part in the bribery scheme. Miller walked out of the courtroom a free man.
"You just don't know what I've been through," Miller said with tears streaming down his face as he left the courthouse with his wife. "I was beginning to think there is no justice."
Sources: Cleveland Plain Dealer, Elyria Morning Journal
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