September 2, 2014

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Petition: Witness tried to recant his testimony from murder trial

The Ohio Innocence Project has asked a federal judge to release convicted killer Alfred Cleveland, arguing that he was wrongfully convicted of the 1991 slaying of Marsha Blakely.

Cleveland, 41, has long denied responsibility for the murder of Blakely,, whose body was found Aug. 8, 1991, behind Westgate Shopping Center in Lorain with her throat slit and 20 stab wounds. She had also been run over by a car.

“Alfred Cleveland did not kill Marsha Blakely, nor was he present or otherwise involved in her murder,” Jennifer Bergeron, an attorney for the Innocence Project, wrote in court documents filed Thursday.

Cleveland, insisted during his trial that he was in New York City at the time of the murder, but William Avery Jr.that he had seen Cleveland participate in the murder. A probation officer was among the witnesses who placed Cleveland in New York the day of the killing.

Avery testified during the trials of Cleveland, Lenworth Edwards, Benson Davis and John Edwards — all of whom were convicted — that Blakely was beaten and dragged out of the apartment of Floyd Epps and then murdered.

Epps was found dead the same night, but no one was ever charged in connection with his death.

Avery tried to recant his testimony in 2006, saying he lied about seeing Cleveland in Lorain because he wanted to claim a $5,000 reward and because he owed $5,000 to Cleveland, money he didn’t have.

But during a 2008 hearing before Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Christopher Rothgery, Avery took the Fifth Amendment when given the opportunity to recant his trial testimony on the stand after prosecutors warned him he would face multiple counts of perjury for changing his story.

Rothgery denied Avery’s request for immunity and read him his rights during the court hearing.

Avery had said that when he tried to recant in the 1990s, during one of the trials for Cleveland and the three other men charged in connection with Blakely’s death, he was told by prosecutors that he would be charged with murder instead, according to documents filed Thursday by the Innocence Project.

Bergeron also wrote that the prosecutors failed to turn over evidence to his defense attorneys that could have cleared Cleveland before his trial. She wrote that then-Chief Assistant County Prosecutor Jonathan Rosenbaum improperly distorted Avery’s testimony during his closing arguments in the case and misstated other evidence.

Bergeron also questioned whether Cleveland’s attorney during his trial and for his appeals, Mary Papcke, was ineffective in part for failing to bring up the alleged misconduct of Rosenbaum or to prepare for the trial.

Bergeron did not return a call seeking comment and Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will said he couldn’t comment on the federal court filing because he hadn’t seen it.

Cleveland is eligible for parole in 2015, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction’s Web site.

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