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Ohio Awards $662,000 to Man Wrongly Imprisoned for Rape

The State of Ohio has agreed to pay Nathaniel Lewis, 28, $662,000 for the five years he spent in prison before his conviction was overturned by a federal appeals court in 2002.

While a freshman at the University of Akron (UA), Lewis was convicted of raping another UA freshman, Christine Heaslet (Beard), in 1996. After the jury found Lewis guilty, he was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Lewis claimed on appeal that the trial judge erred in failing to allow the jury to hear excerpts for Heaslets diary. Those appeals were rejected by state and federal courts until the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, and ordered a new trial. See: Lewis v. Wilkinson, 307 F.3d 413 (6th Cir. 2002).

The State of Ohio dismissed the indictment against Lewis just 15 days after the Sixth Circuits decision, forgoing future prosecution on the charge. Lewis filed a civil suit seeking a declaration that he was wrongly imprisoned. A hearing was held by the Summit County Court of Appeals.

The Court found that the relationship and activities of Louis and Heaslet prior to the alleged rape; the admitted conduct of Heaslet before the sex act (calling her roommate to see if she was coming home and taking a birth-control pill in Lewis presence); and her demeanor immediately after the sex, leads to the conclusion that it was consensual sex.

The Court found Heaslets diary damaging to her contention she was raped. "I think I pounced on Nate because he was the last straw...I'm sick of men taking advantage of me...and I'm sick of myself for getting into them", Heaslet wrote in her diary. "I'm not a nympho like all these guys think. I'm just not strong enough to say no to them. I'm tired of being a whore. This is where it ends."

The Court found a Lewis was innocent of rape and was a wrongfully imprisoned individual. On September 22, 2005, the State of Ohio entered into a record settlement after such a finding.

Lewis received a $212,000 payment. Another $200,000 was placed into a structured annuity with Lewis receiving $3,664.58 per month starting in September, 2006 for 5 years. Lewis counsel, Kirk Migdel, received $167,000 and Counsel Scott Smith received $83,000 for fees and costs in the case.

Migdel and his wife, Debra, had worked on Lewis case pro bono since 1998. Lewis is currently working for a car rental company while residing in Ypsilanti, Michigan. His incarceration apparently had an effect on Lewis: he now hopes to be hired as a guard with the Michigan prison system. See: Lewis v. Ohio, Ohio Court Of Claims, Case No: 2005-08042 WI.

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Related legal case

Lewis v. Ohio