Welcome to my Crime and Justice blog! I am a 19 year old criminal justice student at the University of Winnipeg. I advocate for prisoners' rights, human rights, equality and criminal justice/prison system reforms.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Protest the execution of Kevin Keith-- An innocent man on Ohio's death row

Police arrested Kevin Keith before they had even interviewed all the survivors; the 7-y.ear-old survivor – who knew Keith as her occasional babysitter –  excluded Keith
On the evening of February 13, 1994, Marichell Chatman, her seven-year-old daughter, Marchae, and Marichell's aunt, Linda Chatman, were shot to death at the Bucyrus Estates Apartments.  Richard Warren, Marichell’s boyfriend, and Marichell’s young cousins, Quanita and Quinton Reeves, were also shot, but they survived.  On February 15, 1994, Kevin Keith was arrested for these shootings.  By May 31, 1994, Kevin Keith was sentenced to death for this crime.  From crime to sentencing, only three-and-a-half months passed.
The police committed themselves right away to the fact that Kevin Keith was the shooter, and one of the officers testified that he brought up Keith’s name at the crime scene.  At first, the connection was logical.  The victims family member was the informant for a drug raid that had occurred a couple weeks before, and Keith had been one of the eight people arrested in that raid.  Then, five witnesses told the police that they had seen a “large black man” – described as about 6’1”, 350 lbs. – hanging around in the area.  Keith was 6’, 300 lbs.
But then, a month later, the police discovered that the “large black man” described by those five witnesses was not Kevin Keith.  And none of them had actually seen that
According to the eyewitness' police statement and trial testimony, the getaway car was a "white, cream, light yellow" car with two doors, no molding on the sides, and a back window that went straight down to the trunk. Despite her description, the police determined that the car pictured below was the getaway  car, and they connected it to Kevin Keith because it belonged to Kevin's girlfriend's grandfather. There was not even a fiber inside the car that linked it to the crime scene, the victims, or even to Kevin.
Notably, the alternative suspect's vehicle had just gotten a "new yellow paint job" before the murders.
man do anything criminal; they had all been describing a man who was a bystander at the scene.  That man was Karie Walker – who was 6’3” and around 360 lbs. – and he had just moved in to the apartment complex a few days earlier.
When it was discovered that those five people were not describing Kevin Keith, the size issue was not re-visited.  Nor was it re-visited when victim Richard Warren described his shooter as 6’3 and about 260 lbs., and witness Barbara Ullom told police that the shooter was wearing layered or insulated clothing (which would add to the shoooter’s size, not detract from it.)   Kevin had already been in jail for a month, and his trial was only two months away.
The police had “solved” the case before they even interviewed all of the surviving victims.  Three days after Keith was arrested for her shooting, seven-year-old Quanita Reeves told the police that she was shot by her “daddy’s friend, Bruce.”  She excluded the picture of Kevin Keith as the man she knew as Bruce.
The adult survivor told witnesses that he didn’t know who shot him – until the police fed him the name “Kevin.”
Richard Warren told no less than four different witnesses – including a police officer – that he did not know who shot him.  Warren’s memory changed by the time of Keith’s trial, as he had recalled that a man named “Kevin” was his attacker.  He identified Kevin Keith as that “Kevin.” 
Something happened in between the time that Warren gave his first four statements (where he did not know who shot him), and his ultimate police statement that “Kevin” shot him.  The police admitted that, the day after the shooting, they provided Warren with a name-array of four “Kevins.”  Not surprisingly, Warren chose a “Kevin” from the name-array.
The police then had Warren choose his attacker’s face out of a very suggestive photo line-up.  Picture number five, Keith’s photograph, was a much closer-up image than the rest of the images.  And despite Warren’s statements that he couldn’t see the shooter’s face because he was wearing a mask, Warren picked Keith’s face out of the photo line-up. 
At the suppression hearing, the State used a statement by Warren’s nurse to counter the problems of suggestion inherent in providing a victim with only one name from which to choose.  Captain John Stanley testified that the nurse who attended to Warren – Nurse “Amy Gimmets” – called them to say that the victim identified the shooter as being named “Kevin.”  Stanley testified that it was only then that they provided Warren with a name-array of Kevins. 
But without nurse Amy Gimmets and her statement, no one provided the police with the name “Kevin” before the police provided it to Warren.  The police gave a man – who did not know who shot him – four Kevins to choose from.
The police fabricated a witness to support a shaky identification
Thirteen years after Keith’s conviction, Keith’s attorneys discovered that no person by the name “Amy Gimmets” has ever been employed by the hospital that treated Warren. In fact, Warren’s actual attending nurse – Nurse Amy Whisman, who is listed as the attending nurse on the Warren’s medical records and in Captain Stanley’s police report – further disproves the claim by police that Warren independently supplied the name “Kevin.”  Nurse Whisman swore in her affidavit: “I did not ask [the victim] for the name of the person who shot him, and [the victim] never told me the name.”  Nurse Whisman states that she called the police to let them know that the victim had awoken but she did not give the police a name for the shooter. 
Another man had told an informant of his plans to carry out the very attack for which Keith now sits on death row.
In 2007, Keith’s attorneys also discovered what the police already knew:  The alternative suspect – a man with a violent record of convictions for murder, robbery, and burglary – had told a confidential informant about his plan to carry out the Bucyrus Estates murders.  The alternative suspect had stated his intentions two weeks before the murders occurred. 
Current counsel obtained this information from an unlikely source: the files of the Ohio Pharmacy Board.  There were also several other documents in the Pharmacy Board files that implicated the alternative suspect.  For example, it was the alternative suspect’s habit to wear a mask like the one worn by the Bucyrus Estates shooter. Also, after Keith was arrested for the Bucyrus Estates murders, the alternative suspect’s accomplice in the pharmacy burglary ring told the police that the alternative suspect was paid to kill Rudel Chatman.
There were several indicators during Keith’s trial that the alternative suspect was the one actually responsible for the murders.  Defense counsel had been contacted by a relative of the alternative suspect, who told him that Rodney “is in on the killings.”  Also, the sheriff testified that the alternative suspect showed up at the crime scene and knew the type of bullets involved in the killings.  The alternative suspect also made sure to affirmatively tell the sheriff that his car – a car that matched the physical description given by witness Nancy Smathers – was broken down that night.    Furthermore, when Quanita Reeves said she was shot by her “daddy’s friend, Bruce,” she may have gotten the brothers’ names mixed up.  The alternative suspect’s brother’s name is Bruce.  Both the alternative suspect and his brother were friends with her father, but the brother is smaller than the description of the shooter.
The alternative suspect had a motive and stated intent to commit this crime.  Keith had four alibi witnesses, though only two testified at his trial.  The alternative suspect gave two different alibis: 1) he was at his mother’s house sleeping; and 2) he was with a friend 28 miles away in the neighboring town. The only forensic evidence “linking” Keith to the crime is the “043” in the license plate of his girlfriend’s grandfather’s car – a car that Keith was never known to drive.
Additional evidence supporting Kevin’s innocence and/or State malfeasance
  • Warren, the surviving adult, is 6’4”, and he described his attacker as 6’3”.  Keith is 6’ – four inches shorter than Warren.   The alternative suspect, however, is 6’2”.
  • Witnesses at the scene described the shooter as wearing insulated or layered clothing.  Warren described the shooter as about 260 lbs.  At the time of his arrest – less than 48 hours after the shootings – Keith weighed 300 lbs. Insulated or layered clothing would have made him appear larger, not smaller.  But the alternative suspect was 214 lbs. when arrested a month-and-a-half later on an unrelated matter. 
  • The State used various theories regarding to whom Warren first relayed the name “Kevin.”  At trial, the State presented in rebuttal a man who was Warren’s nurse in the 8-10 hours following when he was shot.  That nurse testified that, at 5 a.m. (while Warren was intubated, sedated, and had his hands strapped down), Warren wrote the name “Kevin” to him on a piece of paper.  That nurse also testified that he threw the paper away, however.  Warren himself testified that this was not true; he never wrote the name down. 
    In a public records request conducted 10 years after trial, the papers were located.  The name “Kevin” was written down in the same handwriting as “Bucyrus Police Department,” “Captain John Stanley,” and the phone number for the police station.  Warren had also written on the papers, but Warren’s handwriting was nonlinear scribbles around the page, readable but obviously from someone who was unable to write perfectly at that time.  Warren’s handwriting did not include the name Kevin.
  • According to the hospital security guard’s report, Warren told the hospital security guard that the perpetrator’s name was unknown.  This report was made an hour after8 hours after Warren supposedly wrote down the name “Kevin.” the police claim that Warren told them on the phone that the shooter’s name was “Kevin,” and
  • Keith has at least four different alibi witnesses.  The murders occurred at 8:45 p.m.    Davison’s neighbor testified that she saw Keith and Davison at Davison’s apartment (28 miles away from the crime scene) at 8:30 p.m., and she saw them leaving the apartment around 8:45 p.m.  From there, Davison told police that she and Keith went to Keith’s aunt’s house, and Keith’s aunt testified that Keith was at her apartment around 9 p.m.  A woman named Yolanda Price was also visiting with Keith’s aunt at the time Keith stopped by, and she has verified that Keith and Davison were there at that time.  Keith was with his girlfriend, Melanie Davison, from about 7 p.m. until 10:20 p.m. that night.
  • As the prosecutor put it, the State attempted to “gather every shred of possible evidence in this case.”  Still, there was not a scrap of evidence that connected Keith to the scene or  to the car that the State ultimately decided was the getaway car.  And as the State’s experts admitted at trial, because of the small area in which the victims were shot, the shooter likely would have had blood spatter on him.  The experts further admitted that none of the forensic evidence collected linked Keith – or anything in his home –  to the crime.
  • The police tried to influence the public by releasing erroneous information to the press at the time of trial.  In newscasts, the Chief of Police stated that both surviving children identified “Uncle Kevin” as the shooter.  Also, the day before voir dire began, the same police chief did an interview with one of the largest papers in the area.   He told the reporter that all three surviving victims identified Keith, and that Keith’s fingerprints may have been found at the scene.
  • Quanita and Quinton Reeves (the surviving 7-year-old and 3-year-old) knew Keith because he used to babysit them.  This explains how Quanita Reeves was able to specifically exclude Keith as the shooter, despite the fact that the shooter was wearing a mask. 
  • Quanita Reeves also knew the alternative suspect and his brother.  Quanita’s father, Demetrius Reeves, was an active participant in the alternative suspect’s pharmacy burglary ring that was ongoing at the time of the murders. Another motive for the alternative suspect to commit the shootings: court records show that Demetrius Reeves ultimately became a State’s witness against the alternative suspects in the pharmacy burglary case, although he never had to testify because the case pled out.  

    According to the eyewitness' police statement and trial testimony, the getaway car was a "white, cream, light yellow" car with two doors, no molding on the sides, and a back window that went straight down to the trunk. Despite her description, the police determined that the car pictured below was the getaway car, and they connected it to Kevin Keith because it belonged to Kevin's girlfriend's grandfather. There was not even a fiber inside the car that linked it to the crime scene, the victims, or even to Kevin.

    Mr. Keith Was Convicted Based on Faulty
    Eyewitness Identification
    The main evidence used to wrongfully convict Mr. Keith was the erroneous eyewitness identification of the surviving adult victim, Richard Warren. The police procedures that led to Mr. Warren’s identification of Mr. Keith as the shooter were highly unreliable and have been widely discredited by social science research.
    The day after the shooting, from his hospital bed, Mr. Warren spoke on the phone to a police officer who had him choose a name out of a name-array of four “Kevins.” The officer gave him the names Kevin Keith, Kevin Thomas, and then two other “Kevins” for which he made up last names. That officer later testified that he could not recall those other two last names. The officer also testified that he did not record that particular phone call with Mr. Warren, even though all outgoing phone lines at the Bucyrus police department are recorded. It was during that unrecorded phone call that the police claim Mr. Warren said he was 75% sure that Keith was the shooter’s last name.
    Photo Lineup
    Later that evening, two different police officers went to see Mr. Warren in the hospital. The police then had him identify the shooter based on a suggestive photo lineup. Mr. Warren himself acknowledged during his testimony at Mr. Keith’s trial that the photo lineup he was shown was biased against Mr. Keith, as Mr. Keith’s photo was projected larger than all of the others. And the police failed to include in the lineup the picture of Kevin Thomas – one of the other “Kevins” they had asked Mr. Warren about – despite the fact that he also fit the physical description of the shooter.
    Additionally, according to Mr. Warren’s medical records, the police supplied him with the motive for the shooting. In the days following the attack, Mr. Warren told his psychologist that the police had suggested that the shooting was intended to target the police informant responsible for the recent drug raid.
    Furthermore, Mr. Warren identified Mr. Keith despite telling at least four people immediately after the shooting, including a police officer, that he did not know who shot him and that the shooter was wearing a face mask. All of these individuals testified to this fact at trial.
    Adding to the unreliability of Mr. Warren’s identification, Quanita Reeves, the seven-year-old who survived the shooting, told the police that she was shot by her father’s friend “Bruce.” She was shown the same suggestive photo lineup as the adult surviving victim and excluded the picture of Mr. Keith as the man who shot her.
    The only other witness to identify Mr. Keith – a neighbor who saw the shooter flee the scene – did so after being unable to identify the shooter in her first two statements to police and only after seeing Mr. Keith’s picture on the news as the man arrested for the crime. Decades of scientific research prove that witness memory is easily susceptible to error, particularly when exposed to improper influence. Like any other evidence at a crime scene, witness memory must be preserved carefully and retrieved methodically, or it can be contaminated.
    Indeed, eyewitness identification is cited as the most inaccurate and unreliable form of evidence. It is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in more than 75 percent of convictions overturned through DNA testing. In Mr. Keith’s case, the eyewitness identifications were deeply flawed, tainted by improper influence and suggestion.

    New Jersey Special Master's report on Eyewitness Identification

    A landmark decision handed down by a Special Master appointed by New Jersey’s Supreme Court calls for an overhaul of the legal standards for eyewitness testimony in the state and could have implications nationwide. His report finds serious “flaws and inadequacies” in the current standards for eyewitness testimony.

    New Jersey uses the same eyewitness guidelines as 47 other states and the federal government, and the new report could lead to changes in legal procedures throughout the country.

    Mistaken identification is the most common element in wrongful convictions. The Special Master noted that 75 percent of the 254 DNA exonerees released since 1989 were sent to prison based on witness misidentification.

    Some of the information contained in this report included:
    • “Memory does not function like a videotape, accurately and thoroughly capturing and reproducing a person, scene or event. Memory is a selective process.”
    • “Memory can be distorted contaminated and even falsely imaged. Memory rapidly and continuously decays and can be unknowingly contaminated by post-event information.”
    • “The witness’s retrieval of stored memory can be impaired and distorted by suggestive interviewing and identification procedures conducted by law enforcement personnel.”
    • Because the reliability of memory is subject to so many influences; “eyewitness identifications should be regarded as a form of trace evidence, like a fingerprint or blood smear.”
    • “The presence of a weapon at the observed event impairs eyewitness memory and identification accuracy."
    The Special Master concluded that the current legal test for the admissibility of an eyewitness identification falls well short of making reliability the “linchpin” of judicial examination of eyewitness testimony.

    This new report could lead to changes in the legal procedures across the country.
    Please click here to view the entire Special Master's report

    Alibi Witnesses
    The shootings at the Bucyrus Estates occurred at approximately 8:45 p.m. on February 13, 1994.
    Yolanda Price: Yolanda Price was visiting Grace Keith at her house in Crestline on February 13, 1994, the night that the murders occurred. Price specifically recalls that Kevin came to Grace’s house that night. Although she could not recall the exact time, she is certain that she saw Kevin after 8 p.m. and before 9 p.m. at the Crestline home on the night the murders occurred. She recalled that Kevin borrowed $5 from her ex-husband, Roy Price, who was also there. Price recalled that it was the first time she had ever seen Kevin’s girlfriend, Melanie Davison, who was waiting out in the car. Price took note of the fact that Kevin and Melanie had driven there in the car that belonged to Zina Scott – Kevin’s other girlfriend – and the car was blue and small.  Price never testified at Kevin’s trial.
    Melanie Davison: Melanie Davison was with Kevin Keith on February 13, 1994, from about 7:00 p.m. until approximately 10:20 p.m. Kevin initially came over to her apartment in Mansfield, and Kevin and Melanie then left Melanie’s apartment and drove together to Grace Keith’s house in Crestline. They stayed at Grace’s house for a short time and then drove back to Melanie’s apartment in Mansfield. Kevin left Melanie’s apartment at approximately 10:20 to go pick up his other girlfriend from work.
    It was Melanie’s grandfather’s car that the police determined was Kevin’s getaway car. Melanie occasionally borrowed her grandfather’s Oldsmobile Omega, but according to Melanie, Kevin had never even driven her grandfather’s car. In fact, she knows that she did not have her grandfather’s car on February 13, 1994, so there is no way Kevin had access to it on that date.  Melanie Davison never testified at Kevin’s trial.
    Grace Keith: Grace Keith is Kevin’s aunt, and she is also the aunt of the victims. Grace testified at Kevin’s trial that she recalled Kevin coming to her house the night of the murders, and she recalled that she looked at her watch while Kevin was there and it was 9 p.m.  She recalled that Kevin borrowed $5 from, Roy Price, who was also there. Grace Keith testified at Kevin’s trial.
    Judith Rogers: Judith Rogers lived in the same apartment building as Melanie Davison. Davison lived in the apartment above Rogers. At 8:30 p.m. on the night of the murders, Rogers recalled that she wanted to use the phone so she went upstairs to Melanie’s apartment. Kevin let her in. Rogers then went back down to her apartment and saw Melanie and Kevin leave around 8:45p.m. while she was watching Living Single. Rogers recalled that Kevin and Melanie drove away in a blue car.  Judith Rogers testified at Kevin’s trial.

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