Free The East Cleveland 3
In September of 2004, more than 8 years after being wrongfully convicted of murder, Eugene Johnson was granted a new trial by Common Pleas Judge Nancy Russo. The ONLY key prosecutorial witness in the case, Tamika Harris, was only 15 years old at the time of the trial.
In late 2003, she contacted Brett Murner and James Valentine, Eugene's defense team and explained that she did not identify Eugene because she actually saw him do the shooting - in fact she never saw the shooter's face clearly. Rather, she was manipulated into identifying him by the coercive practices of the East Cleveland police department, specifically: she was only shown three pictures at the police station, the detective's hand was pointed at Eugene's picture while he asked her to identify the shooter, and Eugene's coat was a similar color to that of the shooter.
Judge Russo conducted a hearing based on this newly discovered evidence. She questioned Tamika at length about her original testimony and why she had come forward when she did. Judge Russo found Tamika's testimony so compelling that she did something almost unheard of. She granted Eugene a new trial .After 8 years of incarceration, Eugene Johnson was released from prison and reunited with his family.
In July of 2005, the Eighth District Court of Appeals overturned this decision and determined that Mr. Johnson was not entitled to a new trial despite the significant evidence that was not available to him at trial. Eugene was subsequently sent back to Lake Erie Correctional Facility in Conneaut where he continues to serve his sentence.
This story is obviously of great public interest. The trial court, which actually questioned the witness concerning her original testimony and weighed the credibility of her current testimony, determined that Eugene was entitled to new trial.
The Court of Appeals overturned that decision, not because Judge Russo made an arbitrary and capricious decision, but because they disagreed with her conclusion. That is not the law. Because of their meritless and illegitimate decision, an innocent man once again sits in jail.
It is Eugene's wish to be interviewed about this fascinating and heartbreaking story where a man pleas of innocence are finally heard only to be silenced by a court overstepping the boundaries.