Bloody Shoes and Snitches
Damn the DNA -- the state of Ohio says Jerome Campbell has to die
Crime scene photos show pools of blood on the stairwell of the West End apartment building where Turner's body was found on Christmas Eve 1988. Bloody shoeprints near the corpse -- a knife still stuck in it -- seemed to point the way to solving the crime.
So it seemed to the jury that heard Jerome Campbell's murder trial. When Cincinnati Police officers seized Campbell's gym shoes, one of them had human blood on it -- the dead man's blood, according to prosecutors.
The best excuse Campbell could come up with? It was his own blood, dripping on the shoe after he'd cut his finger.
That explanation didn't sway the jury. After about three hours of deliberation, jurors unanimously found Campbell guilty of aggravated murder. On May 18, 1989, after the jury recommended Campbell's execution, Hamilton County Judge Thomas Nurre sentenced him to death.
Thirteen years later, law enforcement officials still considered Jerome Campbell's bloodstained, Pony brand gym shoe to be key evidence in the death of John Henry Turner.
With advanced DNA technology leading to the release of condemned prisoners across the country, the state of Ohio announced it would provide testing for its Death Row prisoners -- but only in cases where it might reverse a conviction.
"The results of the test must be outcome determinative," the Ohio Attorney General's guidelines say. "That is, a test result would exonerate the inmate."
When Jerome Campbell's shoe went to Columbus for testing last summer, the laboratory came up with a startling conclusion: The blood on the shoe was Campbell's -- not the murder victim's. Campbell had been telling the truth.
But the real surprise for Campbell and his family came next. Instead of the DNA test leading to his release or at least to a new trial, the Ohio Attorney General's Office reversed itself. The state's new position? The blood on the gym shoe was irrelevant to the case.
Campbell is now scheduled to be poisoned -- the state calls it "lethal injection" -- May 14, a little more than a month from now.
The case against 'Burnt Face'
At about 8 a.m. Dec. 24, 1988, his neighbor Leon Callins found Turner lying on a landing between the second and third floors. A kitchen knife was stuck through the dead man's wrist.
Turner sustained two minor wounds to the thumb and chin and two stab wounds to his upper chest. The fatal wound was in the subclavian vein, according to the coroner. Turner bled to death.
Campbell became a suspect early in the investigation because a neighbor, Donna Roberts, supposedly saw a man known as "Burnt Face." He'd been leaning against the vacant building next to Turner's early in the morning of Dec. 24.
Campbell, who has prominent scarring on the left side of his face and head, was severely burned in a house fire when he was 5 years old. He spent most of a year in the hospital. Years of surgeries followed. People around the York Street area called him "Burnt Face."
The case against Campbell was highly circumstantial, according to his current attorneys, Ohio Public Defender Joe Wilhelm and Pamela J. Prude-Smithers. One of Campbell's fingerprints was found on a lightbulb outside Turner's apartment. His palm print was found on the outside surface of Turner's back kitchen door.
But Campbell had lived in that building until a month or so earlier. The fingerprints were in a common hallway. Campbell had also been in Turner's "house joint" to purchase alcohol, as were many other people in the neighborhood. But his prints weren't found there -- nor, more to the point, on the knife the killer left in Turner's body.
Campbell was arrested Dec. 30 -- six days after the homicide -- at his sister Pamela's house. Police didn't have a murder warrant; they picked him up on a rape complaint by his live-in girlfriend.
Pamela Campbell signed a consent form allowing police to search her house. But she later testified she signed only because the police threatened to take her kids to Allen House, a shelter run by the county.
During the search, police seized a bag of Jerome Campbell's clothing. The Pony gym shoes were in the bag. Investigators were looking for a pair of shoes with the victim's blood on them. One of Campbell's shoes had reddish brown spots, which tested positive for human blood.
Two days after arresting Campbell, Police Specialist Ron Camden made a note about the homicide investigation.
But a funny thing happened to the investigators' theory after they found Campbell's shoes: they didn't match the prints at the crime scene. The bloody shoeprint found near Turner's body wasn't from Campbell's shoes.
After being mentioned during a pre-trial hearing, the shoeprint seems to have disappeared from the case altogether. The jury never learned that Campbell's shoes didn't make the bloody imprint. Instead, prosecutors focused on the fact that his shoe had drops of blood on it.
Campbell was indicted Jan. 9, 1989 on one count of aggravated murder and two counts of aggravated burglary. His girlfriend dismissed the rape charge.
'The state cheated'
Having exhausted all his legal appeals, Campbell will get a clemency hearing some time this month. But he doesn't want his sentence commuted to life imprisonment; he's asking Gov. Bob Taft for a full pardon, nothing less. He still maintains his innocence.
"I will never apologize for something I didn't do, and if that means I'll die, then I die with my dignity intact," Campbell wrote Feb. 19.
Opponents of capital punishment are rallying to Campbell's defense as his death day nears. They point to a host of irregularities in the investigation of Turner's murder and the conduct of Campbell's trial. Put together, his attorneys say, the case includes the worst elements of the death penalty as it's practiced in the United States: a faulty eyewitness, jailhouse snitches and ineffective legal representation for a penniless defendant.
But worse still, the Ohio Public Defender's Office contends Hamilton County prosecutors withheld evidence about jailhouse informants, elicited prejudicial and inconsistent testimony from police and misled the jury about the blood stains on Campbell's gym shoes.
"Confidence in the result of this trial is undermined because the state of Ohio cheated in order to convict Campbell," says a June 2000 brief filed with the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. "Campbell's due process right to a fair trial was infringed by the state's unfair tactics."
The closest thing prosecutors had to an eyewitness, Donna Roberts, didn't actually witness the crime. She only placed Campbell in the area. By itself, that wasn't even suspicious behavior, as pointed out by former U.S. Rep. Thomas Luken, one of the people campaigning to save Campbell.
"That's his own neighborhood," Luken says.
When police questioned Roberts on Dec. 24, she said that at 11 p.m. the night before she'd seen a person in the alley near Turner's door. She didn't know if the person were a male or female but said he or she wore white jogging pants.
Upon returning from a bar on Central Parkway about 1 a.m., Roberts said, she saw another person leaning against the vacant building next to Turner's -- a male, light skinned, with a sore or scar on his face. She said he had dark pants, a black jacket and a black hat. Roberts told the police she thought he used to live in Turner's building. She didn't know his name.
A note in the police investigation file that day says, "At this point, we are thinking this is our possible suspect in this case."
Five days later investigators returned to Roberts' apartment and showed her a picture of Campbell. In a pre-trial hearing April 18, 1989, Officer Jim Lawson testified that Roberts provided Campbell's name.
But Roberts testified that was untrue. She only later heard rumors that "Burnt Face did it," she said.
Furthermore, Lawson's testimony conflicted with testimony by Officer Ed Zieverink, who said the identification process took place downtown, in the Violent Crimes Division.
Campbell's attorneys tried to suppress Roberts' identification of Campbell because it was too suggestive.
"Our motion to suppress is based on the fact that the identification was improper and suggestive and has nothing to do with his actual whereabouts," Mark Krumbein said in a 1989 hearing. "The investigating officers themselves are, I believe, totally inconsistent."
Showing a photo of Campbell by himself was improper, Krumbein argued.
"I am saying that is as patently suggestive as one can be," he said. "Other than showing white guys and Jerome, that's highly suggestive. And for that reason I would suggest to the court that it is tainted, that it should not be admitted into evidence."
Studies have shown that one of the most common factors leading to wrongful convictions is mistaken identification. In 60 of the first 82 DNA exonerations handled by the Innocence Project, mistaken eyewitnesses played a major part. Using a single witness makes the situation particularly vulnerable.
But it would take more than a blood-spotted gym shoe and a sort-of eyewitness to convince the jury Campbell was a murderer. Prosecutors didn't have his fingerprints on the murder weapon or in the victim's apartment. They needed a confession. They brought in the most specious form of evidence, the jailhouse snitch.
"Jailhouse snitches are the favorite tool of Hamilton County prosecutors, as in the Campbell case," Luken says. "In this case, even the federal district judge noted 'a reasonable likelihood' that prejudicial-motivated testimony of snitches seeking leniency in exchange for testimony could have affected the judgment of the jury."
Prosecutors put two convicted felons on the witness stand. The star witnesses were Ronys Clardy (aka Ronny Claudy) and Angelo Roseman (aka Mark Zachery, aka Kendall King). The two men testified that, while at the Hamilton County Justice Center, Campbell confessed to murder.
On Nov. 7, 1988, Lawrence Ulmer and McKinley Boone were working at the Clark Oil Station on Gilbert Avenue. According to Ulmer, Clardy entered the store and told him, "I have a gun" and "Give me your money."
Ulmer tricked him, saying, "I don't have any money. I'm changing shifts. The guy in the back has the money." When Clardy approached Boone, Ulmer ran across the street to call 911. Boone said he and Clardy got into a scuffle and he managed to mace Clardy. Police picked up Clardy near Eden Park.Both witnesses attended Clardy's pre-trial hearing. They met with the arresting officers and Assistant Prosecutor R. Daniel Reif. They both identified Clardy.
Both Ulmer and Boone say the last they heard, Clardy got a continuance. They say authorities never contacted them again.
A porter at the Justice Center while awaiting trial, Clardy had access to Campbell's pod and had opportunity to rummage through his legal papers. He could have learned enough about Campbell's case to fabricate a confession. But he embellished.
Clardy told the jury Campbell had confessed to stabbing Turner in the stomach and cutting his throat. However, the coroner's report showed Turner wasn't stabbed in the stomach, nor was his throat cut.
Six years earlier, another county prosecutor gave his opinion of Clardy's truthfulness. Robert Ruehlman, now a common pleas judge, was the prosecuting attorney when Clardy was convicted of two counts of aggravated robbery in 1983.
Ruehlman urged the judge to give Clardy the maximum sentence.
"This defendant went to trial, and I feel that he committed a lot of perjury, wasted the county's money in a two-day trial putting on his gang of liars," Ruehlman said.
Following his testimony against Campbell, all felony charges against Clardy were dismissed -- for want of prosecution. Prosecutors claimed their witness didn't show up, so after six months they had no case.
Reif explained the collapse of Clardy's prosecution in a sworn affidavit June 30, 1995.
"The reason that the case was dismissed is that I could not locate the victim of the robbery to testify," the affidavit says. "I asked the Cincinnati Police Department to look for the civilian witnesses. The witnesses could not be found. It was suggested that the witnesses did not cooperate because the offense was part of a drug deal gone bad."
But that's entirely untrue, according to the two witnesses. CityBeat easily located both Lawrence Ulmer and McKinley Boone, the prosecution's missing witnesses. Both say they were available to testify, contrary to what police and prosecutors stated in court, but they were never contacted again. CityBeat found Boone in Florida. He lived in Cincinnati until the mid-1990s. Ulmer is in the local phone book.
Ulmer says he was still working at the Clark station during the spring of 1989, when Clardy was scheduled for trial.
"If they wanted to contact me, they could have," he says. "I am easy to find. I am always listed in the phone book. I have a library card, gas and electric bills, phone bills. Mail can be forwarded. They could have contacted the store owner. He would have let me know."
On May 18, 1989, police told the court they couldn't locate Boone because he'd quit his employment at the Clark Oil station and moved. He just couldn't be found.
Boone told CityBeat he quit his job to have surgery but remained in Cincinnati.
Hearing of Reif's statement for the first time, Ulmer was furious.
"I don't deal drugs," he says. "I have to dispute that. It is a very strong untruth. I don't even have a black mark on my record. This is outrageous. I am highly upset that a public servant can say anything against an upstanding citizen because everyone is going to believe the public servant as opposed to the private citizen. I served on the grand jury about six years ago because I am an upstanding citizen. If a public servant is going to lie about a private citizen, that's an outrageous thing to do and it needs to be investigated."
What possible reason could police and prosecutors have for letting Clardy escape prosecution?
A March 17, 1989 report by Officer Lawson could explain it.
"Clardy is holding back some information because he wants some kind of deal, so we are gonna put him in touch with the prosecutor's office and let them talk to him and see what kind of arrangements they wanna make with him," Lawson wrote.
On May 18,1989, Judge Nurre imposed the death sentence on Campbell. That same day, Clardy walked out of jail.
Reason to smile
On parole from a felony conviction in California, Roseman faced a 3 to 15-year sentence for a pending theft charge in Hamilton County. In a taped statement to police March 27, 1989, Roseman claimed Campbell admitted killing Turner. Records show that two days later his $10,000 bond on the local charges was lowered to "own recognizance."
On May 4, 1989, Roseman testified against Campbell. The next day Roseman pleaded guilty to a reduced charge. Apparently Roseman was quite pleased with the deal he had struck with prosecutors. Judge William Morrissey asked if he understood the plea he had just signed.
"Yes, sir," Roseman said with such a big smile on his face that the judge found it distracting.
"You know, if you keep smiling at me, I'm going to lose my place on here and I'll have to start all over," Morrissey said.
The judge sentenced the snitch to 180 days in jail -- time he'd already served. That same day, a jury found Campbell guilty of aggravated murder.
During Campbell's murder trial, Clardy and Roseman denied they'd made any deals or received any special treatment for testifying against him. Clardy claimed he'd contacted police because Campbell was "evil."
The snitches must have impressed the jury. In a 1995 affidavit, one juror stated their testimony was credible because they "had no reason to lie." But Clardy and Roseman did lie and prosecutors knew it, according to Campbell's attorney, Joe Wilhelm.
"Even if Clardy's and Roseman's deal was secured by only a wink and a nod, it is no less a deal," he stated in a memorandum with the federal appeals court. "Jailhouse testimony is inherently unreliable. When the jailhouse inmate has only a vague or implicit deal with the state, then the inmate has greater incentive to lie at trial to curry the state's favor."
A police report from March 20, 1989 shows that Clardy met with several police officers, Assistant Prosecutor Terry Gaines and his attorney, Elizabeth Agar. He testified against Campbell six weeks later.
The culture of jailhouse snitchery is humorously spelled out in Barry Scheck's book, Actual Innocence. Leslie Vernon White explained the entire process in great detail. White was a full-time criminal who didn't do much time.
"No sooner would White arrive in jail than he would size up the inmate population, like a housewife squeezing tomatoes at the grocery store for the juiciest one, deciding who the prosecutors would like to hear about," Scheck wrote.
Inmates have jokes about the process, according to White: "Don't go to the pen -- send a friend ... If you can't do the time, just drop a dime ... Trouble? You better call 1-800-HETOLDME."
Informants swarm to a hot case, White told Scheck.
Clardy and Roseman must have taken a correspondence course from White.
In 1992, attorneys Scheck and Peter Neufeld created the Innocence Project in New York City. The project handles death penalty cases in which post-conviction DNA testing can yield conclusive proof of innocence.
The University of Cincinnati Law School has set up shop for an Innocence Project here (see Trial and Error, issue of Nov. 21-27, 2002).
Cincinnati City Councilman John Cranley, who led the effort, is the executive director. He also administers the school's Urban Justice Institute, where a group of his students recently authored a report, Death Row in Ohio, 2003: The Case for a Study Commission.
Illinois Gov. George Ryan created such a commission after 13 Death Row inmates in his state were exonerated. The commission identified common practices and factors that led to the highest reversal rates in capital cases. The UC students found that more than half of the people facing execution in this state wouldn't be on Death Row if the Illinois reforms were implemented here.
The students examined 173 Ohio inmates' cases and found that 88 inmates -- including Campbell -- wouldn't be eligible for the death penalty. Campbell's conviction featured the very factors the Illinois commission highlighted as prone to error: a single eyewitness and jailhouse snitches.
Destroying the evidence
In a criminal trial, it's essential that the defense challenge the police forensic expert, according to Wilhelm. Jurors rely on this information and are impressed with their knowledge, he says. An independent criminalist could have provided the defense and the jury with critical information.
A fingerprint expert could have explained that prints have an indefinite duration and can remain on a surface for years. Campbell was a resident of 1008 York St.; his prints could be found in a lot of public places inside the building.
Reasonable doubt could have been developed based on the lack of prints on the murder weapon, indicating gloves might have been worn.
As it happens, a bloody glove was found at the crime scene. But the jury never heard about it: It was not used as evidence.
A bloodstained black hat found at the scene should have been tested for hairs and fibers, Prude-Smithers and Wilhelm say. The property tag for the black hat is stamped "Grand Jury," implying it was used to get Campbell indicted. But this bloody piece of evidence, like the glove, was not used at trial. Defense attorneys could have made it clear to the jury that, had such evidence been incriminating, prosecutors would have used it.
Last year, still trying to save Campbell's life, the Ohio Public Defender's Office sought to have all the unused bloody articles tested -- 13 years after the trial. In October 2002, Prude-Smithers asked the Ohio Attorney General's Office for additional DNA testing and fingerprint comparison on items found in the murder victim's apartment.
"Results in testing the shoes supports his requests for additional testing," she wrote. "Those results proved that the victim's blood was not on Mr. Campbell's shoes, thereby refuting the argument that the blood on the shoes circumstantially supported the state's case. The shoe test results raises concerns about the reliability of Campbell's capital conviction. Additional physical evidence needs to be tested using the tools of modern science."
During Campbell's trial, the senior criminalist, retired Officer Clarence Caesar, testified he had secured numerous articles with blood evidence. Campbell's attorneys made a list from the original coroner's report. Prude-Smithers wanted them compared to a national DNA database.
She also requested additional analysis on the blood-soaked hat to see if hair fibers were present and could be identified. She asked the state to consult with the FBI on fingerprints lifted inside Turner's apartment.
"A thorough investigation in a capital case must extend well beyond a fixation on only those persons identified as suspects early in the investigation," Prude-Smithers says.
A computerized search would be a far more thorough means of identifying prints at the murder scene.
"Campbell was convicted without benefit of this technology," Prude-Smithers says. "It would require minimal time and costs."
But there's one problem with testing the bloody glove, the bloody hat and the fingerprints: They no longer exist. Records show the articles with biological material were destroyed by police 15 months after Campbell's trial.
When informed the articles were destroyed, Krumbein, Campbell's first trial attorney, seemed shocked.
But it's not official policy to destroy bloodstained evidence from a homicide so soon after a trial, according to Hamilton County Prosecutor Michael Allen. In February, he spoke to a death penalty workshop organized by Northern Kentucky University's Chase College of Law.
Allen said investigators take great care to safeguard against innocent people being sentenced to death. Evidence in such cases is kept as long as 30 years, he said.
But somehow that didn't happen in Campbell's case. Copies of the original property tags are stamped with the word "Destroyed," dated Oct. 9, 1990. Officer Jim Lawson, a lead investigator in the case, authorized the destruction.
The proof is in the blood
Death penalty advocates cite the small number of requests for DNA testing as proof that no one on Death Row is innocent. In 2002 Joe Case, spokesman for then-Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery, gave an interview to The Cincinnati Enquirer.
"In Ohio, the failure of inmates to request DNA tests says a lot," Case said. "We think that the fact that no one had taken us up on our offer as of the beginning of April speaks for itself. DNA is a powerful, accurate science. If someone had evidence available to prove their innocence, one would think they would be asking for testing right away."
After the implementation of the state's Capital Justice Initiative, Campbell was the first among Ohio's 204 Death Row inmates to request a DNA test to prove his innocence.
The Attorney General's office determined Campbell had adequate evidence to qualify for a test.
"The test must be likely to demonstrate actual innocence or guilt," Case said.
Testing on the shoe in 1989 concluded that the spots were human blood, according to serologist Denise Cargo of the Hamilton County Coroner's Office. But testing for blood type was inconclusive.
Police tried to get DNA testing of the blood spots in 1989. This was the first case in Hamilton County to use new DNA technology, according to Krumbein. But the tests were inconclusive: There was not enough material to get a banding pattern.
The prosecution's case relied on the assertion that the blood on Campbell's shoe belonged to the victim. Court transcripts show the shoe was presented to the jury on three different occasions during the trial -- in Assistant Prosecutor Patrick Dinkelacker's opening statement, during Cargo's testimony and in closing arguments.
During police interrogations, Campbell admitted his shoe had blood on it. He said the blood was his own. He said his girlfriend had cut his finger during a domestic dispute and blood dripped on his shoes. During Campbell's trial, his girlfriend, Estelle Roe, corroborated the story.
Another 13 years passed before the shoe would be retested. In the summer of 2002, Ohio's Bureau of Criminal Investigations proved the blood on Campbell's shoe came from Campbell himself.
"John Henry Turner (victim) is excluded as the source of the DNA from all stains from the white Pony gym shoes," the lab report says. "The DNA profile from the stain on the shoes is consistent with Jerome Campbell."
Campbell had been telling the truth.
If this critical piece of the prosecution's case turns out to be incorrect 13 years later, what else could be in error?
Despite the favorable results of the DNA test, the state has scheduled Campbell's execution for May 14. The Attorney General's Office now denies that the test results were important to any legal issue in Campbell's appeal.
The state's reversal is telling, according to William Gallagher, past president of the Greater Cincinnati Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.
"They must have been thoroughly convinced that it was going to come back with victim's blood on it," Gallagher says. "They were looking for a DNA test that would finally, conclusively prove that all these people on Death Row are guilty and shut the rest of them up."
Kim Norris, spokesperson for Attorney General Jim Petro, essentially, if unwittingly, underscores Gallagher's argument. Approval for the test came from Former Attorney General Montgomery, now state auditor.
"It was her understanding that the test was done because Campbell was the first to request testing under the new initiative," Norris says. "It was to resolve any last minute issues."
In other words, state officials agreed to test Campbell's shoe to put aside doubts about his guilt. The last thing the state expected was evidence he was innocent.
The state's conduct is fundamentally unfair, according to Cathy McGee, Campbell's niece.
"My Uncle Jerome has always declared his innocence since day one," she says. "As soon as he was able to request and be granted DNA testing, it was done. Once the evidence came back in his favor, the state scrambled to get an execution date set so that they would not have to face the true facts in this case -- that he is innocent as he said he was."
Gov. Taft will examine Campbell's case carefully, according to his spokesman, Orest Holubec. But unlike former Illinois Gov. Ryan, who cleared out his state's Death Row, Taft still believes in the way the death penalty is administered.
"The governor also believes that because of the review and the thorough examination each case receives in our court systems, we don't have some of the problems that we have seen in different states," Holubec says. "He believes the system is effective."
'The illusion that the system works'
"I know that my words seem like I have given up, but the facts are in," he wrote. "The courts have lied, the cops and the prosecutors have lied. I just ask that you take all the paperwork that I send you and show the public that the only thing the judicial system does is help cover up bad detective work at all cost, and if an innocent man has to die, that's cool too, because it helps keep up the illusion that the system works."
Campbell's attorneys hope to convince a federal judge to order a new trial, based in part on the new DNA test results.
Some advocates are trying to generate public outrage. Eunice Timoney Ravenna is a volunteer with the Cincinnati Chapter of Ohioans to Stop Execution.
"Now that his story is out, what will people in Hamilton County do -- call the governor, and expect, no, demand, a response?" she says. "Or turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the call to justice and do nothing? We should all remember the state executes in our name -- my name and yours. We all ought to be doing something."
The county's record so far is appalling, according to Luken.
"Every published survey in recent years, such as Professor Liebman of Columbia University Law School and The Chicago Tribune 1999 series, identify Hamilton County as in the top tier of counties sending people to Death Row," Luken says. "We are 8 percent of Ohio's population and consistently 25 percent of Ohio's Death Row population. Our county is, in fact, 'Little Texas' when it comes to executions."
For more information about the campaign to win a new trial for Jerome Campbell, call 513-579-8547 or write firstname.lastname@example.org or Ohioans to Stop Execution, 215 E. 14th St., Cincinnati, OH 45202. The committee meets at 7 p.m. the second Tuesday of each month at the Peaslee Neighborhood Center in Over-the-Rhine.
||Truth in Justice