Photo of legal scales and gavel

Ohio Innocence Project case continues to provide valuable experience for CWRU law students

Successes in trial and appeal are resulting in more innocence cases for CWRU Law’s Kramer Clinic

Now that a faculty member and students at Case Western Reserve University School of Law have had success in a high-profile innocence case, they are getting involved with more.

Recent law school graduate Sarah Stula said being close to a wrongful conviction reversal in a murder case was “inspiring.” She was with Carmen Naso, senior instructor of law, when both learned that a three-judge panel in the Ohio Eighth District Court of Appeals in Cleveland ruled unanimously earlier this year in favor of three Cleveland-area men who are free on bond and due a new trial.

Carmen Naso
Carmen Naso

“The 3-0 decision is important because all of the appeals judges agreed Derrick Wheatt, Laurese Glover and Eugene Johnson were denied a fair trial, and it is reasonable to conclude that new evidence will produce a different result,” Naso said. He and several Case Western Reserve law students over four semesters assisted in the cases of Wheatt and Glover.

A key eyewitness recanted testimony, and lawyers for the three men argued that information from police reports cast doubt on the defendants’ guilt at their 1995 trial in Cuyahoga County but was not disclosed to the defense. The case was made primarily through the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP), which operates out of the University of Cincinnati’s Rosenthal Institute for Justice in the College of Law.

The OIP partnered with Naso, who provides experiential education to Case Western Reserve law students in the Criminal Justice Clinic of the Milton A. Kramer Law Clinic Center. His students can expect to remain involved in this case, helping with legal briefs and other preparation, whether the case returns to trial court or is appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

The case is also significant, Naso said, because it shows how law students can impact the reversal of a wrongful conviction. And more such cases are expected in collaboration with the OIP or through the recently formed Northeast Ohio Board of Advocates, a group of lawyers in the region and law faculty at Case Western Reserve interested in innocence cases. He said one case from the OIP and two from the board of advocates are in the early stages at the Kramer Clinic.

Stula, who soon will clerk for a Kansas Supreme Court justice for two years, said she and four other students were nervous about how the three-judge appellate panel would rule on an argument that exculpatory evidence (favorable to the defendant in a criminal trial) was not provided at the trial of the defendants.

The students took on the role of appeal judges and helped “moot” the case for the case attorneys on the first day of CWRU Law’s recent semester, the day before the real appeal arguments. The appeal decision occurred on the final day of the semester, allowing them to experience the result of their work.

“Those kinds of cases are hard to win. This is exactly what we wanted, and all three judges agreed,” Stula said. “So we’ll see what happens from here. I’ll definitely follow this case after graduation. It’s exciting and I really hope the best for them. These men were imprisoned for about two decades wrongfully. I really hope they can stay free.”