October 25, 2014

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Convicted killer denies committing Lorain murder

Alfred Cleveland appears in court in January 2008. Cleveland, convicted of killing a woman in Lorain, is hoping new evidence helps exonerate him. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

Alfred Cleveland appears in court in January 2008. Cleveland, convicted of killing a woman in Lorain, is hoping new evidence helps exonerate him. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

CLEVELAND — Alfred Cleveland admitted to running drugs and stealing cars during a hearing in federal court Tuesday, but he denied killing Marsha Blakely, the crime for which he is serving a prison term of 20 years to life.

“I’m not guilty. I didn’t commit these crimes,” Cleveland said when asked if he would admit to killing Blakely in 1991 if it meant he would be able to win parole. Cleveland isn’t eligible for parole until March 2015.

Cleveland, 44, was in court for a hearing on evidence his attorneys believe could exonerate him in the brutal slaying of Blakely, a crack addict and prostitute whose body was found behind Westgate Shopping Center in Lorain about 9:15 a.m. Aug. 8, 1991. Blakely was stabbed multiple times, her throat was slit and she had been run over by a car.

“I never met her before in my life,” Cleveland said of Blakely.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that Cleveland was entitled to a hearing on whether newly discovered evidence, including that Cleveland was in New York at the time of the murder, would exonerate him.

Over the objections of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office, which contended the issue had already been examined during Cleveland’s trial, the appeals court wrote that he “has presented a credible claim of actual innocence.”

Cleveland’s lawyers have pointed to airline records, a meeting Cleveland had with his probation officer in New York, a friend who claims to have seen him in New York just hours before the killing and phone records as proof their client wasn’t in Lorain when Blakely was killed.

Another key piece of evidence that Cleveland’s attorneys have relied on is the recantation of William Avery Jr., a key witness against him and three other men, Benson Davis, Lenworth Edwards and John Edwards, who are also serving time for killing Blakely.

Police and prosecutors have acknowledged that Avery’s story shifted during the investigation and the trials, but they also contend that his knowledge of the crime scene evidence made him credible.

Former Lorain police Detective Geno Taliano said that even without looking at crime scene photos, Avery was able to fill in some of the gaps in the evidence gathered by police. For instance, Taliano said Avery was able to link a bloody jacket police were given to Lenworth Edwards, who Avery claimed Blakely gave a bloody nose to during a struggle in the apartment of Floyd Epps.

“If it was simply his statement to me, I would have walked away,” Taliano said.

On Tuesday, Cleveland also denied involvement in the killing of Epps, who knew Blakely and whose battered body was found a few hours before Blakely was discovered. Although police have long suspected the two slayings are connected, no one has been charged with Epps’ death.

Avery first tried to recant his testimony in the midst of a trial in the Blakely killing after then-Assistant Lorain County Prosecutor Jonathan Rosenbaum said he refused to pay the $10,000 Avery demanded for his testimony.

When Avery first refused to testify in the case, Rosenbaum said the judge in the case ordered him jailed. It didn’t take long, he said, for Avery to begin calling prosecutors from jail, but Rosenbaum said he refused to talk to him in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

“I took that position so no one could accuse us of what they’re apparently accusing us of here today,” he said.

Cleveland’s lawyers have suggested that Rosenbaum threatened Avery and other witnesses to testify the way he wanted, an accusation the former prosecutor has vehemently denied.

Avery recanted his testimony to the FBI in 2004 and again in 2006 when he swore out an affidavit for a private investigator working for Cleveland. In the affidavit, Avery said he lied about Cleveland’s involvement so he could claim reward money being offered in the case.

Ohio Assistant Attorney General Jerri Fosnaught said there was no reason to believe Avery’s most -recent version of events.

“Avery’s recantation is not reliable,” Fosnaught said. “The recantation itself is riddled with lies.”

Avery refused to testify during a hearing in 2008 before Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Christopher Rothgery after he was warned that he could be charged with perjury if he changed his original testimony.

State prosecutors also challenged evidence that a piece of rubber found at the scene of Epps’ death had Blakely’s blood on it. The appeals court wrote that evidence suggested that Blakely was killed before Epps.

That put the timeframe she was killed between midnight and 1:25 a.m. on Aug. 8, 1991, when Epps’ body was found.

But Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification experts testified Tuesday that new tests showed the blood on the rubber belonged to a man, likely Epps, not Blakely. They also said rules prevented them from comparing a blood sample taken from a victim to a national DNA database.

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


  • Bob Sweatt

    Yeah yeah we heard it all before on COPS. “It’s not mine, I have no idea how that got in my pocket, I was holding it for a friend” Did I miss any??

    • Brian_Reinhardt

      “It was planted by the cops”…lol

    • Zen Grouch

      The comeback I use to love when I was a cop and would catch the fools red handed, pulling the stereo out of a car or breaking into a home was…

      *Officer! Am I ever glad to see you!*

      We’d be like, “Oh really?” …then beat ‘em senseless.

  • im heartless, so be it

    yea.. i swear other people use my car..

  • Macdaddyoh

    Everyone in prison is innocent.

  • It has to stop

    I would question every conviction Rosenbaum was a part of.

    • SoLoJimbo

      Amen!!!

  • Paul Facinelli

    Another troubling case from the White/Rosenbaum regime, a time when justice was never a consideration and cravings for courtroom victories to fuel political ambitions were insatiable. As an aside to any death penalty proponents who should alight here: Knowing what you know now, would you be comfortable if Alfred Cleveland had been executed? Since he got 20-to-life, he can now be freed if exonerating evidence comes to light, which it apparently has. If the state had executed him — in all of our names, by the way — no remedies would be possible.

    • Zen Grouch

      How reliable can an alibi from a “friend” be, if it took 20 years for this “newly discovered evidence” to come to anyone’s attention?

      Seems like that should have come up during trial.

      • James Diaz

        Zen your question should be how reliable is a conviction in Lorain county. They were looking for convictions. The truth at times just got in the way of a conviction. There will be many more cases like this the dam is just starting to leak. This did not just happen to a couple people.

        • Zen Grouch

          “Zen your question should be…”

          *BUZZ!!!*

          *WRONG!*

          I’ll let my question stand as it is, thank you very much.

          Answer it or ignore it, but don’t tell me I’m asking the wrong question.

    • John Boy

      Why do you have throw in the death penalty into the discussion? The story doesn’t mention the death penalty, he wasn’t sentenced to death. I get it you don’t agree with it, but give a break to politicizing of an issue that has nothing to do with the story.
      I do agree with you about Jon, I don’t think justice was in his vocabulary when he was a Prosecutor, he wanted to win and would do whatever it takes to make sure he got a conviction.

  • Jon Overholt

    Don’t comment if you don’t know the detail you jack wagons…. This is serious stuff.

    I have been following the case since 2002. This is the most corrupt cover up I have ever seen. Take a look at the merits on the case. These detectives wanted Cleveland & his boys so bad for running drugs in there town but could not get him. This crack head William Avery that owed Cleveland money was pushed by his father to claim he saw the murder. Collected $3000 cash & got relocated to Detroit. Along with not having to pay the debt he owed to Alfred Cleveland. There is also the possibility of William Avery’s Father committing the crime. In 2008, Avery Jr Came down from Detroit on his own to testify, to the Common Pleas Court that his testimony that convicted Cleveland was False & that he had done it for the reward money. He got on the stand, prosecutors approached him in a stern way & threatened him with 6 counts of purgery & that they would pursue a 30 year prison sentecne if he was going to recant. Then the shocker, the judge, the JUDGE of all people went on & read Mr. Avery is Miranda Rights. Complete corruption! They know they are wrong & are trying to bury him. Nobody realizes what an uphill battle it is to prove your innocents once wrongly convicted & how easy it is for the state to cover it up. I think everyone could agree how arrogant & corrupt Johnathan Rosenbaum is from his testimony yesterday. All I can say is WOW. His time is coming!

  • jz

    These scenarios are part and parcel a by-product of the misguided wrong headed drug war, just as much as it is the desire for drugs by some people and the desire by some to make money fast and easy. Get cops out of this equation and these scenarios disappear. LEAP.

  • Thomas Calkins

    Seems to me if meeting with your probation officer 400 miles away from a murder isn’t enough to exonerate a person, then what is?!