Today, prosecutors in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) vacated the conviction of long-time Ohio Innocence Project client Evin King. King was convicted in 1995 of murdering his girlfriend despite no direct evidence of guilt (eyewitness or forensic). He always maintained his innocence, from arrest and trial and then throughout his 23 years of incarceration.
When he is released, which will hopefully be later this week, King will be the 25th person the OIP has freed on grounds of innocence since its founding in 2003. Together the 25 innocent Ohioans spent more than 470 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit.
DNA testing confirmed that the semen found in the victim’s vaginal cavity after the attacked matched male skin cells found under her fingernails (a hand-to-hand struggle appeared to have taken place during the attack, as the victim was strangled). This male DNA in both locations did NOT match Evin King, but rather, an unknown male.
[Watch this moving video of Assistant Clinical Professor Jennifer Bergeron informing Evin King, in prison, that he is about to regain his freedom after 23 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit…]
Prosecutors had for years failed to respond to King’s motions for relief, even after the exclusionary DNA test results were obtained. And the trial court sat on King’s post-conviction motions for nearly a year-and-a-half before denying relief. Fortunately, the 8th District Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision last year and sent the case back to the trial court for a hearing, while specifically observing that the DNA evidence supports King’s innocence claim. On Friday, the OIP learned that after newly-elected prosecutor Michael O’Malley took office in January, he put new prosecutors on the case to look into it with a fresh eye. When O’Malley was later informed of the details of King’s case from these prosecutors, he ordered that King’s conviction be overturned and that he be released.
OIP Assistant Clinical Professor Jennifer Bergeron has represented King for many years, as did OIP staff attorney and Ohio Public Defender attorney Carrie Wood (now at the Cincinnati Public Defender’s Office). OIP student fellows on the case include Taylor Freed, Katie Wilkin, Mallorie Thomas, Joe Wambaugh, Bryant Stayer, Steve Kelly, Morgan Keilholz, Jon Walker, Scott Leaman, Thomas Styslinger, John Markus, and Julie Payne. The Ohio Public Defenders Office, particularly Kris Haines, worked on King’s case as well for many years. King’s case is another example of the importance of determination and perseverance, as Bergeron, Wood, Haines, and the students never gave up even though at times King’s prospects appeared bleak given the initial stiff resistance of the trial court and the prosecutors.
OIP co-founder and director Mark Godsey said, “While the initial delay in obtaining justice for Mr. King is disturbing, Michael O’Malley and the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office deserve credit for turning this case around and correcting an injustice. As we have seen in other counties with other cases, prosecutors far too often fight back hard against an exoneration even when the evidence of innocence is strong. But in several past cases in Cuyahoga County, and today with Evin King’s case, the prosecutors in Cleveland put justice above winning. O’Malley’s involvement in the case since his recent election, along with his decision to put new prosecutors on the case, may have been the pivotal factor that secured freedom for an innocent man, and we are thankful for his heroic intervention.”