CLEVELAND, Ohio — A federal jury awarded $13.2 million to a former housing authority security officer Friday after finding two Cleveland detectives fabricated or withheld evidence at his 2000 murder trial.
David Ayers, 56, who spent 11 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, and several jurors wept as the verdict against detectives Denise Kovach and Michael Cipo was read in U.S. District Court.
“These detectives didn’t do their jobs at all,” juror Stephanie Kocian told The Plain Dealer in an interview. “They manipulated the evidence, and didn’t look at anyone else except the most convenient suspect to convict. The word ‘railroaded’ was thrown around the jury room during deliberations.”
At the time of his 1999 arrest, Ayers had been working for more than eight years as a security officer with the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority. He was accused and eventually convicted of the beating death 76-year-old Dorothy Brown, who lived in a CMHA high rise in Cleveland.
Ayers continued to maintain his innocence, filing appeals while serving a life prison term for aggravated murder. He finally prevailed in 2011, when DNA tests proved that a single pubic hair found in Brown’s mouth did not come from him.
The lawyers representing Ayers in the civil rights lawsuit argued that anti-gay sentiments caused the two detectives to frame their client for the slaying despite evidence that Brown also had been sexually assaulted.
Brown’s body was found naked from the waist down, and her top pulled up, exposing her chest.
A statement released by Ayer’s Chicago lawyers on Friday said the detectives had “no reason to suspect Mr. Ayers of having murdered Ms. Brown. Mr. Ayers was innocent and had nothing to do with the crime. Moreover, as a gay man, Mr. Ayers did not fit the profile of the killer in the case, given the obvious sexual nature in which the victim had been attacked.”
Kovach and Cipo blamed the pubic hair on Brown’s messy apartment. The 11-member jury reached its verdict after four days of testimony and one day of deliberation. “This should have been stopped a long time ago,” Ayers told The Plain Dealer minutes after the verdict was read. “My goal is that it never happens to anyone else ever again.”
Cleveland Law Director Barbara Langhenry, whose office defended the detectives, released a one-sentence statement: “We are disappointed in the verdict and are considering our options.”
Attorney Rachel Steinback of Chicago, who represented Ayers, said the city is self-insured, so the $13.2 million will come from taxpayer money, not an insurance company. Kocian said she was proud of the jury’s verdict and troubled by the poor quality of the homicide detectives’ investigation. She said she was “appalled” that the case even made it to trial.
“We did him justice,” she said. “He deserved it. I found him absolutely credible and believed every word he said.”
In 2008, the Ohio Innocence Project went to work on Ayers’ case, and in 2009, the 8th Ohio District Court of Appeals ordered Common Pleas Judge Nancy Margaret Russo to allow the DNA testing — which absolved Ayers.
Subsequently, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Ayers’ conviction, ruling that his constitutional rights were violated when Russo admitted the testimony at trial of a jailhouse informant. Ayers denied confessing to the murder or telling anything to the informant.
Ayers walked out of prison a free man in 2011. The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s office announced they would not retry Ayers for the murder, although they left open the possibility if new evidence was discovered.
“Hopefully, this verdict will convince the prosecutors to run a DNA search to find the real killer who is still on the loose,” said Russell Ainsworth, one of the Chicago lawyers who presented the civil rights case in federal court.
article by James F. McCarty via cleveland.com