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Prisoner Education Guide

Three Wrongfully Convicted Ohio Prisoners Receive $19.5 Million

by Derek Gilna

Eugene Johnson, Derrick Wheatt and Laurese Glover, also known as the East Cleveland Three, wrongfully convicted of the 1995 murder of Clifton Hudson, Jr., received a settlement totaling $4.5 million from Cuyahoga County, Ohio in March 2018. Eight months later they each received a $5 million jury award in a lawsuit against city police detectives who had investigated their case.

Johnson, Wheatt and Glover, who were convicted as teenagers and spent 20 years in prison, were freed in 2015 after an extensive investigation by the Ohio Innocence Project found police and prosecutors withheld evidence that would have exonerated them.

The trio had steadfastly maintained their innocence since they were arrested, tried and convicted. Following their release from prison, they filed suit in Common Pleas Court against Cuyahoga County and former prosecutors Deborah Naiman and Carmen Marino. 

According to Dave Lambert, Cuyahoga County’s chief prosecutor, the county settled the lawsuit to “put this long-running matter behind us, and to avoid running the unacceptable risk of taxpayers footing the bill for large verdicts against the county based upon the amount of time these plaintiffs spent in prison.”

Common Pleas Judge Nancy Russo had ordered a new trial on the criminal charges in 2015, but prosecutors dropped them the following year. The Innocence Project found that many witness statements made to the police were never provided to the defense, either before or after the trial or during the appeals process. The statements were not produced until 2013, at the request of the Innocence Project. 

Judge Russo also noted that the prosecutor had “maliciously inserted himself into a criminal proceeding” by asking the police department to release the requested statements to his office rather than the Innocence Project. See: Glover v. State of Ohio, Court of Common Pleas of Cuyahoga County (OH), Case No. CV-18-893818.

Johnson, Wheatt and Glover went to trial in federal court in November 2018 in a lawsuit against the East Cleveland police detectives – Vincent Johnstone, Michael Perry and D.J. Miklovich – who investigated their case. They claimed the detectives withheld a report about witness statements that were favorable to them, and had coerced a 14-year-old girl, who later recanted her testimony, into identifying them. 

During the litigation, the district court sanctioned the city in November 2017 for discovery-related issues, including a suggestion by the city’s attorney that the plaintiffs depose a former police officer who was in a coma. The court also held the city waived a qualified immunity defense by not raising it earlier in the case. The claims against Miklovich were dismissed at trial.

The federal jury awarded Johnson, Wheatt and Glover $5 million each, though the city is trying to overturn the verdict; if it fails to do so, it may have trouble paying the judgment due to budget problems. Johnson, Wheatt and Glover are represented by the law firm of Loevy & Loevy and attorneys Michael B. Pasternak and Brett F. Murner. The case remains pending on post-trial motions. See: Wheatt v. City of East Cleveland, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ohio), Case No. 1:17-cv-00377-JG. 

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Sources: www.usnews.com, www.cleveland.com

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