Timothy Howard and Gary James

Justice Shirked

by Martin Yant

Journalist, author and private investigator Martin Yant
Yes, Timothy Howard and Gary James were wrongly convicted. I should know. Although you would never know it by reading the Page One story in today's Dispatch, I developed 90 percent the evidence in the case while Jim McCloskey of Centurion Ministries spent most of his time trying to get attorney Jim Owen, the great leader of the Ohio Public Defender's Commission who handpicked the inept top brass who badly botched John Byrd's evidentiary hearing, to get off his duff and do something with it. 

One of the most important things I did was get the affidavit from Judge William Gillie after talking to him several times about the case over a three-year period. Yet The Dispatch said the affidavit was obtained by Owen and McCloskey. (As important as that and other affidavits I obtained were, a treasure trove of withheld police reports I obtained after Owen and McCloskey discouraged me from trying produced the most convincing evidence of Howard's and James' innocence.)

Here are four of many examples of Owen's callous disregard for Howard and James, which I gave to Allan Johnson, the author of today's incomplete story after the Public Defender's Office mishandled the Byrd hearing. That evidence shows that Owen went incommunicado for several months two years in a row when he should have been working on an appeal for Howard and James. When Owen finally tried to produce a brief, it turned out to be seven pages of gibberish. At that time, McCloskey had me write a detailed summary of the case, which Owen used to finally compose a post-conviction motion. 

It was this same lack of motivation that caused Owen to default on another innocent inmate's habeas corpus petition and then lie for over a year that if had been filed. When McCloskey told me he wanted to keep Owen on the Howard-James case despite his negligence because of Owen's friendship with the judge and that Owen's default in the case of the other innocent inmate was not his concern, I withdrew from the case. But back to the examples:

On February 25, 1999, McCloskey wrote this during the first of two periods of total inaction by Owen: "Jim, I just don't know what to say ... how can I truly express the hurt, anger and anguish that is in my heart concerning your disappearance at a most critical time for Timothy Howard and Gary James. It strikes me as pathological that you do not even have the common courtesy to at least communicate with us and tell us what is going on in your professional life that once again has taken you away from Timothy and Gary." 

On March 1, 2000, Timothy Howard wrote to Owen: "I talked to Mr. McCloskey today and he expressed his disappointment in regard to you not responding to the prosecution motion in a timely manner. To me, it seems you are six to eight months behind schedule according to the time table you set for me to have my freedom." (I had to talk Howard out of cutting off one his fingers and sending it to Owen to get his attention at this time.)

On March 8, 2000, McCloskey wrote to Owen. "If Timothy's plaintive letter . . . doesn't get you off the dime, I don't what will. In my 20 years of doing this work, I have never been so frustrated by the lack of coherence between words and action of an attorney as I am with you."

On July 10, 2000, McCloskey wrote to Owen: "Don't go incommunicado on me. You and I know that we really have reached a crisis point. This is insane."

McCloskey went on to threaten to fire Owen, then wrote: “Had you not had the relationship with the judge that you claim to have, we would have let you go much sooner. Your word is worthless now. I don't know whether to believe you on this score either. We have stayed with you only because we were convinced that without you, Judge Watson might go south on us. You have successfully held on to this case knowing that this was always your 'Ace' in the hole." 

The Dispatch also left out a lot of important exculpatory evidence I will soon publicize in my soon-to-be-launched online publication. One of the things I will report is how The Dispatch's coverage of the murder may have unwittingly contributed to Howard's and James' wrongful convictions. As part of its coverage of the murder case, The Dispatch published mug shots of Howard and James before several key witnesses had identified them. This greatly contaminated the identification process and suggests the need for media restraint on the use of photos of suspects until investigations have been completed.

Another thing The Dispatch glossed over was the record of Detective Tom Jones Sr., who allegedly framed Howard and James. The Dispatch neglected to report that, in 1978, the internal affairs bureau of the Columbus Division of Police determined that Jones had framed Allen Thrower for the homicide of Columbus Police Officer Joseph Edwards, who was ambushed in his cruiser in 1972. Based on these findings, Thrower -- who told the judge that he had been "unjustly done" after his conviction -- was released from prison in 1979.

Once internal affairs investigators had opened the Pandora's Box, some cases couldn't be ignored. One was the conviction of Thomas Broady for the 1973 slaying of bar owner John Georgeoff. 

During Broady's trial, FBI Agent Dick Cleary informed Jones that another suspect had confessed to the murder in a convincing fashion. Jones told Cleary that "we have our man" and failed to inform prosecutors or his supervisors of Cleary's call. Years later, the man who confessed to Cleary was granted immunity from prosecution, and both he and Cleary testified about his confession and how Cleary how informed Jones of it. As a result, Broady was granted a new murder trial, at which he was acquitted.

A second case in which Jones played a role was the indictment of Jack Searcy Jr. for the 1975 murder of William Ruh. In September 1976, Ron O'Brien -- then an assistant prosecutor and now prosecutor -- asked to have the indictment dismissed. O'Brien said seeking the dismissal was "the only legal and ethical thing to do," but he would not elaborate. 

Searcy had already been convicted by then for the January 1975 murder of James Peoples with dubious evidence also developed by Jones' informants, who testified that Searcy had confessed to the killing while they were in jail with him. The inmate who first fingered Searcy has told me he was coerced into doing so by Jones.

Another case that couldn't be ignored was the trial of Anthony Washington shortly after that of James and Howard for the 1977 murder of Dr. Walter Bond. Investigators reportedly were pursuing allegations that Jones manufactured the evidence and recruited informants as witnesses against Washington. The indictment against Washington was dismissed shortly after Jones retired under disability on August 28, 1978. But by then Jones had already done in Howard and James.

Jones undoubtedly was delighted to learn that the like-minded Dan Hunt was the senior prosecutor in the Howard and James trials. The late Hunt's actions during the two trials would show that he was quite a manipulator of facts himself.

There is much, much more to this story, of which I gave all the details included in today's Dispatch story to the paper's courthouse reporter over two years ago. As is often the case, The Dispatch was years late and many facts short when it finally published the story. Although The Dispatch has improved under the leadership of Mike Curtin and Benjamin Marrison, it obviously has a long way to go.

Martin D. Yant
Author, Journalist & Private Investigator

This is the back story.  Click HERE to read the mainstream report.

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