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Ohio Settles Actual Innocence Claim For $1,500,000

Ohio and Ohio prosecuting officials settled a wrongful incarceration lawsuit by agreeing to pay $1,500,000 to a man who was imprisoned for 26 years after his conviction for a robbery and murder he did not commit.

Gary James, 55, and his friend Timothy Howard were convicted of a 1976 bank robbery during which a guard was shot execution style. They received deaths sentences which were commuted to life because Ohio’s capital punishment statute was ruled unconstitutional in 1978. Their convictions were overturned in 2003 after it was discovered that the prosecutors never told defense attorneys about strongly exculpatory evidence including crime scene fingerprints that were left by the perpetrators, but did not match James or Howard, statements by eyewitnesses that contradicted their trial testimony and suppressed police reports.

Both men filed civil suits seeking a declaration of innocence. A jury declared Howard innocent and a judge determined that James was wrongfully convicted. Both men filed wrongful conviction/ wrongful imprisonment suits in state court. Howard settled for $2.5 million in 2006, but died of a heart attack in March 2007. James, who had lower litigation costs than Howard, settled on May 17, 2008. The settlement calls for James to be paid $700,000 in a lump sum and have $500,000 disbursed over 15 years. The other $300,000 goes to his attorneys, James Owen, Richard S. Ketcham and Rick L. Brunner of Columbus, Ohio.

“He is very happy,” said Owen. “He feels he can get some closure on this matter and get on with the rest of his life. Nothing could be fair. Nothing could make up for all those days he spent in prison and on Death Row.”

The Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office still contends that the men were not wrongfully convicted of the robbery/murder. However, they maintain that reopening the case would be impossible at such a late date. See: James v. State, Court of Common Pleas-Columbus, Ohio, No. 04-CV-2808.

Additional Sources: Associated Press; Ohio Trial Reporter.

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Related legal case

James v. State