October 21, 2014

Elyria
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Judge denies request to toss out man’s murder conviction

ELYRIA — Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Mark Betleski on Wednesday rejected Clarence Weaver’s request to throw out his murder conviction.

Weaver

Weaver

The Ohio Innocence Project had wanted the 76-year-old Weaver’s 15- to 40-year prison sentence tossed on technical grounds so that he could be acquitted of the 1991 killing of his wife, Helen Weaver.

“It’s disappointing that it couldn’t work with Mr. Weaver, but I’m not surprised given everything that’s happened with the Head Start case,” Jennifer Bergeron, one of Weaver’s Innocence Project lawyers, said after learning of the decision.

The Innocence Project had used the same logic that attorneys for Nancy Smith and Joseph Allen used to convince county Common Pleas Judge James Burge to throw out the lengthy prison sentences for the pair in the controversial Head Start child molestation case.

Over the objections of prosecutors, Burge vacated Smith and Allen’s sentences because his predecessor, now-retired Judge Lynett McGough, failed to note the pair had been convicted by a jury in the original sentencing entries. Burge had originally planned to hold new sentencing hearings in the Head Start case, but after reviewing the evidence he concluded Smith and Allen were innocent and acquitted them.

Prosecutors appealed all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court, which ruled that Burge should have fixed the problem with new sentencing entries, a decision that overturned the acquittals.

Betleski’s decision said he denied Weaver’s requests because of the Supreme Court ruling in the Head Start case. He also completed a corrected sentencing entry imposing the same sentence on Weaver that McGough handed down in 1994.

“It’s pretty consistent with what we advocated all along,” county Prosecutor Dennis Will said. “I believe this pretty much puts to rest what was being argued in Smith and Allen.”

Jack Bradley, one of Smith’s attorneys, said the Supreme Court’s decision effectively closed the avenue Burge had used to clear his client and will continue to do so unless the state’s highest court changes its mind. He said efforts remain under way to find another way to clear Smith and Allen, who have always proclaimed their innocence, including asking Gov. John Kasich to grant Smith clemency.

The Innocence Project, which is working on Smith’s clemency application, has also asked Kasich to grant clemency to Weaver, who also maintains his innocence.

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