The August, 1998, interrogation tapes listened to by 11 Investigates revealed Willis repeatedly saying he had nothing to do with this case, that he knew of Slaughter but had never met Maurice Purifie.
“I didn’t have anything to do with it. I don’t know nothing about it. And I’m telling you that I need a lawyer, because I know nothing about it,” Willis says on the tapes.
Detectives then tried to encourage him to continue talking because Slaughter already “told us his story.”
In a July interview with 11 Investigates, lead prosecutor in the case, Andrew J. Lastra, said it was troubling to him that Willis and Braddy offered little defense to detectives.
“From a common-sense standpoint, if you are charged with this level of offense and you believe you hadn’t done it, I mean, I think the natural reaction would be, I’d be jumping up and down, standing on my head, screaming and yelling that I wasn’t the person who did it,” Lastra said.
But Miranda rights were established to protect suspects against such bias: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in the court of law. You have the right to an attorney …”
Full interview with lead prosecutor Andrew J. Lastra
Willis, in addition to his claims of innocence, immediately offered an alibi, and it was later supported by several people. Willis said he and his girlfriend, Donna Flowers, were babysitting his sister's children. They were supposed to go out with his sister, but Willis says his allergies were bothering him so he stayed in, leaving only to pick up a pizza around 5 or 6 p.m.
He is overheard during his police interview telling police that he has asthma.
"When the police talked to Donna, she had two children at the time, and they said they were going to take her kids. They tried to intimidate her. I know that because she called me in the county jail and she said they were talking about taking her babies," Willis says.
Again, 11 Investigates tried repeatedly to talk to the detectives involved in the case, but the requests were turned down. There is no evidence, in the police record, to support Willis’ claim.
Flowers, however, filled out an affidavit for the Ohio Innocence Project. Despite being broken up with Willis at the time, she still confirmed his story. In a phone call to 11 Investigates, Flowers said she did not want to go on camera but she said: "I know exactly where he was. It was my birthday week, and he was with me all week. Karl can't be in two places at once."
A records search confirmed that Flowers’ birthday is in June.
Despite giving Pettis a polygraph test to clear him as a suspect, the police refused to allow the same for Willis. He offered to take one. A police report confirmed Willis’ request, a request he also made to 11 Investigates.
When Lastra was asked about the polygraph, he responded: “We were going to give him one.”
When asked why Pettis was given one and Willis was rejected, Lastra said, “I had forgotten about the lie detector on Pettis.”
When told that Willis offered to take a test for 11 Investigates, and provide any DNA, Lastra replied, “Well, there isn’t really precedent for doing that after the fact. I recall the office did it in a case years ago, but that wouldn’t be a call that I would make.”
When 11 Investigates requested to review the case file, the team was given access, but there was one glaring omission from the evidence. While there were some audiotapes of interrogations, the videotapes were missing. When asked to produce them, since they were part of the trial record, police spokesman Lt. Kevan Toney admitted that they were lost, saying, "We made a mistake."
The videos were referenced repeatedly in reports and during the trial. During cross-examination from Boyer, Detective Bart Beavers said that Detective Harold Mosley was supposed to provide a supplemental report of his interrogation of Slaughter. He did not provide it because, Beavers said, it was all on the videotape. Mosley was the lead questioner at the point when Slaughter changed his story for the final time, implicating Willis and Braddy in the killing.
DOCUMENT | VIDEOTAPE TESTIMONY
During a recent phone call, Willis said that his defense team never had access to the tapes, even before his initial trial. An email was sent to Lastra, asking him to at least confirm that the tapes were turned over to the defense during discovery. He responded: “I don’t want to sound like a jerk, but I gave you a lot of time in that interview. I answered your questions honestly and to the best of my knowledge and belief. I'm not going to search through a 20-year-old case file. I’ve got plenty to do on current files that require my attention.”
Believing that the tapes document a key part of the investigation, 11 Investigates then submitted an Open Records request for the tapes and for the list of items that the prosecution submitted to the defense during discovery. Those records have yet to be produced.
Slaughter was indicted by the grand jury for the killing in September, 1998. The panel returned a “No bill” for Braddy and Willis, meaning that there was not enough evidence to bring charges. It was nine months later that a grand jury was presented new evidence, and Willis and Braddy were indicted for aggravated murder and aggravated robbery.
Andy J. Lastra was the lead prosecutor in the case that sent Karl Willis and Wayne Braddy to prison for the murder of 13-year-old Maurice Purifie.
“The coroner’s office was able to corroborate a lot of what Travis had said in interview with the police department. And there was another witness who had given us information who had not originally come forward - that being the ex-girlfriend of Travis Slaughter, Shondrea Rayford,” said Lastra in explaining the additional evidence presented to the grand jury.
The Ohio Innocence Project, though, poked holes in that evidence. No DNA evidence was ever presented of Willis or Braddy being at the scene. In fact, clothing and shoes were tested for blood splatter (Slaughter testified that Willis got right on top of Maurice and pulled the trigger). No blood linking them to the killing was found. The murder weapon was never recovered. No witness - other than Slaughter - placed the men as being together on the day of the killing.
DOCUMENT | FORENSIC TESTIMONY - NO BLOOD
As far as Rayford’s evidence to police, it starts with the fact that she told police that she and Slaughter were boyfriend and girlfriend. During the trial, prosecutors repeatedly called him her boyfriend. But she told 11 Investigates that he was not a boyfriend - because he was gay. Slaughter repeated his sexual identity to Braddy and Slaughter in letters.
But the key piece of evidence that Rayford told investigators was that she overheard Slaughter, Willis, and Braddy talking about killing Maurice. Before she stopped answering questions during the trial, she was expected to repeat that story on the stand.
In 2012, Rayford provided her affidavit, saying the story about the phone call was not true and that the real reason for the killing was a spurned sexual advance. If Rayford’s revised story is true, it means that a lie was part of the evidence used to indict the men after prosecutors went back to the grand jury.
DOCUMENT | SHONDREA RAYFORD AFFIDAVIT
At this point, all of the witness testimony has been recanted and there is no DNA evidence or witnesses linking Willis and Braddy to the case.
When told that a conviction would be difficult since there are no witnesses left saying Willis and Braddy are guilty, Lastra said, “Well, that’s a good point. It’s not like at this point that we can go and find Travis Slaughter and bring him back and have him go through what we went through with him the last time.”
As a sexual offender, Slaughter is required to register his current address with law enforcement, which is how he was located by 11 Investigates.
However, Slaughter did not appear for a 2017 appeal, despite being subpoenaed by the Ohio Innocence Project. His absence was highlighted as evidence by Lastra that Slaughter was not reliable or fully committed to his latest story.
Lastra insisted that Slaughter’s plea deal would not have been jeopardized if he had appeared in court and recanted his previous testimony.
“He wouldn’t lose his plea deal. By law, that’s done. We can’t pull the plea deal,” Lastra said.
11 Investigates was sent copies of the original plea deal. Paragraph 5 says that if Slaughter does not provide truthful testimony, then the agreement is null and void and that he waives his defense against double jeopardy, even if he has already been sentenced, and that the original charges would be reinstated. If those charges were reinstated, he would still be in prison and, like Willis and Braddy, could remain there for life.
In a letter from Slaughter to Willis, he apologized for his actions, but he also seemed to worry that the original charges would be reinstated after he recanted his testimony.
“When y’all are eventually set free, they will try to re-indict me? Won’t they? They can too, huh?” Slaughter wrote.
And then he seemed to indicate that he would not go back to jail: “Then that’s when I will have the man right then and there on national television take me out.”
Despite the issues raised, Lastra told 11 Investigates that he is convinced of the guilt of Willis and Braddy - with 100 percent certainty.
Willis scoffs at what the state says was his motive - $200 to kill Maurice.
"What could a 13-year-old even be involved with that you would want to do something to him for $200? That's a child, man," Willis says. “You’ve got to have some kind of demonic spirit if you want to go hurt a child. I had nephews and nieces that age.”