October 25, 2014

Elyria
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54°F
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Murder convict’s lawyers seek new trial

ELYRIA — Attorneys for a convicted killer trying to clear his name say a county judge and prosecutors erred when they told a key witness that he could face perjury charges if he recanted the testimony that sent Alfred Cleveland to prison.

William Avery Jr. was prepared to testify in January that he lied about seeing Cleveland in Lorain County on Aug. 8, 1991, the night Marsha Blakely, a crack addict and prostitute, was murdered.

Avery has said in sworn statements that he testified against Cleveland during his trial because he wanted to claim a $5,000 reward for information on the killings and because he owed Cleveland $5,000 he didn’t have.

In an appeal of Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Christopher Rothgery’s decision to reject Cleveland’s request for a new trial, Cleveland’s attorneys contend that the threat of perjury led Avery to invoke his constitutional right not to incriminate himself.

“The only reason he didn’t testify was because he was threatened with perjury,” said Jacob Cairns, one of Cleveland’s lawyers.

Cairns said the statute of limitations — six years — had already expired because Avery tried to recant during the early 1990s trial of one of three other men also convicted of involvement in Blakely’s murder. Avery said when he tried to recant before, he was told he would be charged with the murder instead.

Blakely’s body was found behind Westgate Shopping Center in Lorain with her throat slit and 20 stab wounds. She had also been run over by a car.

Although he did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday, Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will has said previously that Avery could face perjury charges because the sworn statements he’s given in recent years differ from his trial testimony.

Avery now fears he will go to prison if he takes the stand to help clear Cleveland, Cairns said.

Will’s office refused to grant immunity to Avery in exchange for his testimony at the hearing earlier this year, and in his ruling, Rothgery wrote that Avery’s testimony must be viewed with the “utmost suspicion.”

Cleveland, 39, has long denied involvement in Blakely’s murder, insisting that he was in New York City at the time. Cairns said that several witnesses have come forward in recent years who put Cleveland in New York on Aug. 7-9,1991.

“I believe he’s innocent,” Cairns said. “The evidence shows he was in New York City at the time of the murder.”

Another lingering question in the case, Cairns said, is the murder of Blakely’s friend, Floyd Epps, who was found dead nearby. Epps, 47, had also been run over by a car, but no one was ever charged in connection with his death.

Rothgery had rejected several other arguments put forward by Avery’s lawyers in their efforts to win him a new trial without a hearing. That decision is also being appealed.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.