Posted: April 8, 2014 5:00 PM
Ohio’s former Attorney General Jim Petro filed documents last week in Federal court in support of a man whom he believes falsely confessed to a murder he did not commit. The Morning Journal reported that Petro asked U.S. District Court Judge Jack Zouhary to hold a hearing to determine if Alfred Cleveland was wrongly convicted of murder.
Cleveland was convicted of murdering Marsha Blakely and has been behind bars since 1996, where he has been fighting for a new trial. In addition to Petro’s amicus brief, Cleveland’s lawyers have submitted new evidence of his innocence.
Blakely’s body was found in an alley in Lorain, Ohio, in 1991. She had cracked ribs, a broken neck, a slit throat and torture-type wounds on the side of her head and neck. According to a witness, a group of four men, including Cleveland, attacked and murdered Blakely. Cleveland wasn’t arrested until 1995 and he maintained his innocence throughout the trial. Numerous witnesses testified at trial that Cleveland was in New York when the murder happened and when Blakely’s body was discovered. Evidence supporting Cleveland’s claims that he was in New York were also presented at the trial.
Cleveland was convicted of aggravated murder in January, 1996, and was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.
Petro wrote in his brief that he stumbled on Cleveland’s case when he was reviewing wrongful conviction cases: “Specifically, I became concerned with the essential role that the testimony of William Avery Jr. played in Mr. Cleveland’s conviction. . . . As a friend of the Court, I have an interest in ensuring that the Court is aware of the full spectrum of information necessary to render a decision in this case.”
Avery had testified that he saw Cleveland and the three co-defendants kill Blakely. Nearly a decade after Cleveland and the others were convicted, however, Avery contacted the FBI and said that he lied during the trials to cover for his father, who actually committed the murder. According to Avery, his father pressured him to collect the reward money and cover up his guilt.
A couple of years later, during a 2008 hearing of a motion for a new trial in Lorain County Common Pleas Court, Avery said that he wanted to recant his trial testimony. He was informed that he could face 30 years in prison for perjury and, after being denied immunity, he pleaded the fifth amendment.
According to the Morning Journal, Petro noted in his brief that since Avery’s testimony is the only evidence linking Cleveland to the crime, it needs to be carefully examined. Petro wrote, “And while courts and prosecutors are often suspicious of a witness’ recantation, it is also possible that the recantation is a genuine attempt to do the right thing. . . . Simply put, Mr. Cleveland’s conviction hangs solely upon the recanted testimony of someone who was paid to give that testimony and who angled to extort more for it.”
A final oral argument was held Monday where both parties reviewed evidence. They now await the judge’s decision.
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