Breaking News
More () »

11 Investigates: Toledo men featured in 'Guilty Without Proof' expected to be freed after 23 years in prison

Prosecutor's office agrees to allow Braddy and Willis to plead to lesser charges in 1998 murder of 13-year-old; men have always claimed innocence

TOLEDO, Ohio — Two men featured in the 2019 WTOL 11 investigation, “Guilty without Proof,” are expected to be released from prison on March 28.

Karl Willis and Wayne Braddy will be in the courtroom of Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge Gary Cook at 1 p.m. that day. Judge Cook will dismiss aggravated murder and kidnapping charges against the men and they will take an Alford plea to lesser charges related to the Central Toledo killing of 13-year-old Maurice Purifie on June 15, 1998. After going through final processing at the Lucas County Jail, the men should be freed later that day.

An Alford plea is not an admission of guilt, but it is an admission that the state has enough evidence to convict. Since being arrested two months after the early morning shooting death, Braddy and Willis have maintained their innocence.

In the initial August 2019 investigation and subsequent stories, 11 Investigates documented multiple problems with the conviction, notably that there was no physical evidence or credible witnesses. A note from lead detective Bart Beavers to Prosecutor Julia Bates commended her team on an “astounding victory.”

That state “victory” was accomplished against court-appointed counsel. While looking into the case, 11 Investigates discovered that individual counties have different “caps” for appointed counsel and need judicial permission to go over those caps. Brady and Willis’ attorneys were only allowed to bill up to $4,000 in their defense. In nearby counties, an aggravated murder defense would have a budget of $15,000. Willis’ attorney was not even a criminal defense lawyer.

The biggest concern raised by our investigation was the state’s main witness, Travis Slaughter. He was interrogated by police for more than six hours after a CrimeStoppers tipster claimed that he admitted to killing Maurice. He repeatedly denied involvement, until late in the interview, when he put himself at the scene and implicated Braddy and Willis.

In late 2019, he sat down for an hourlong interview with 11 Investigates and claimed that, not only did Braddy and Willis have nothing to do with the crime, but that he was also innocent. He claimed police tricked him into saying he was at the crime scene and he threw out the names of Braddy and Willis as accomplices because the men had recently had a fight over clothing. He also told us that he was extremely hungover, hungry, and was looking for a way to end the interview.

His story changed multiple times in the police interrogation, and at trial, he told the jury that Maurice owed him money and that he offered Braddy and Willis money to rough him up. He said the men ultimately passed around a gun to shoot him once in the chest and four times in the head.

The state’s other witness, Shondrea Rayford, was alleged to have been Slaughter’s girlfriend and the CrimeStopper tipster. She denied both those characterizations in an interview with 11 Investigates and said she knew nothing about the crime, but she said she was sure that Braddy and Willis weren’t involved. At trial, she was held in contempt of court when she stopped testifying. In our interview, she said she stopped because she was not going to lie against the men, which is what she said prosecutors wanted her to do.

According to Jon Crye, the jury foreman, her refusing to testify was viewed negatively by the panel and as evidence that she was afraid of Braddy and Willis. Crye also interviewed with 11 Investigates for nearly an hour. He said there were instances where the jury ignored the judge’s instructions and after being shown several pieces of our investigation, he admitted that the men were likely innocent. For the last four years, he has offered to do whatever he could to get them a new trial.

After several stories by WTOL on the case, there was no one saying the men were guilty and there was no evidence tying them to the killing.

In the summer of 2020, the Ohio Innocence Project, using many elements of our investigation and an affidavit from Slaughter, filed a motion for a new trial. Last summer, Judge Cook denied that motion but cited several issues with the case and wrote, “describing evidence as thin would be an understatement.” He acknowledged Crye’s statements to WTOL but said his hands were tied because a juror in an Ohio case is not allowed to testify in later appeals. He did ask the Sixth District Court of Appeals for guidance.

After OIP lawyers for Braddy and Willis filed a notice of an appeal to the Sixth District, the Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office reached out to defense counsel about a deal to end future litigation. After several meetings, the outline of the current deal was put in place and the sides asked the Sixth District to remand the case to the Common Pleas Court so that Judge Cook could act on the deal.

Members of the prosecutor’s office met with the Purifie family before making the deal. The Alford plea will provide finality not only for the defendants but also for the Purifie family, who will not have to worry about continuous appeals. For Braddy and Willis, the deal provides an end date. Even a successful bid for a new trial would likely result in several more years in prison. A failed appeal could be their last opportunity for freedom until a parole hearing in 2026.

Willis was 19 years old, Braddy 18 when they were arrested. The men are now 43 years old.

In 2021, Braddy lamented all that they have lost while in prison.

"When I'm free, my mother is not going to be there to hug me. My grandmother is not going to be there to hug me. Bubba (Karl), his mother and father, his grandparents, they will not be there to hug us and tell us we knew you were going to be free."


Before You Leave, Check This Out