TOLEDO, Ohio — One week after the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office opposed a bid for a new trial for two men convicted of a 1998 murder, the Ohio Innocence Project has responded.
Wayne Braddy and Karl Willis were convicted in early 2000 of killing 13-year-old Maurice Purifie on June 15, 1998.
The men remain in prison and have maintained their innocence since being arrested in August, 1998. Their case became the subject of "Guilty Without Proof," an 11 Investigates report that aired last August.
Two months after the report, the state's key witness, Travis Slaughter, went on camera and admitted to me that he lied to police and that he was coerced by police and prosecutors.
Two separate interrogation experts - one to the court and another who listened to the interviews for WTOL - agreed that he appeared to be coerced.
His interview was featured on an episode last month on "Anything You Say," a national podcast produced by Vault Studios.
"Guilty Without Proof" spelled out multiple problems with the investigation and resulted in jury foreman Jon Crye saying that he believes the men are likely innocent and deserve a new trial.
Lead detective Bart Beavers sent a letter to Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates after the trial, commending her office for the "unthinkable" conviction.
Co-prosecutor Tim Braun was disbarred last month following an investigation into his actions as Sandusky County prosecutor. In recordings captured by state investigators, Braun bragged to office staff about his ability to put people on death row and about how powerful his word was against someone.
Because of the "Guilty Without Proof" investigation, Slaughter provided an affidavit to the Ohio Innocence Project in December. That affidavit was the foundation for Braddy and Willis' bid for a new trial.
However, Bates' office opposed the OIP's motion. They did not refute anything that Slaughter said in his interview with me or any of the facts in "Guilty Without Proof." At this point, no one is saying the men are guilty.
Instead, Assistant Prosecutor Evy Jarrett said that the new motion was not filed in a timely manner, citing Slaughter's October interview with me.
The OIP motion was filed in August.
However, it's not clear that a journalist's interview can legally be used in an appeal. In a reply that was filed Friday afternoon to the state's opposition, OIP attorney Jennifer Bergeron says "the clock" should have started with the December affidavit.
She then argued that the motion was delayed because her team received Slaughter's interrogation videos in January and hired a firm to make a transcript of the six hours of interviews and that the transcript was severely delayed, mostly because of the pandemic.
But at the heart of Bergeron's response to Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Gary Cook is that the state refuted none of Slaughter's interview.
Jarrett's opposition was based almost solely on the timing of the WTOL interview.
In emails shown to WTOL, Bates has criticized the "Guilty Without Proof" report to multiple county officials, though she has not responded to multiple requests to sit down and discuss any concerns she has about the investigation.
Other than an interview with former anchor Kristi Leigh, Bates, an elected official, has refused to talk to any WTOL reporter in more than a year, despite requests on other topics unrelated to "Guilty Without Proof."
During an interview for the original report, lead prosecutor Andy Lastra admitted to me that he would not be able to prosecute Braddy and Willis at this point because he has no witnesses.
Following the investigation, I asked Bates to sit down and discuss the creation of a Conviction Integrity Unit. The impartial units are growing in popularity around the country. Wayne County's unit in Detroit, as of July, has freed 16 men wrongfully convicted, including Richard Phillips, who was freed after spending 45 years in prison for murder.
Bates did not respond to my request to creating a unit in Lucas County.
When reached on Friday afternoon, Bergeron expressed frustration about the prosecutor's continued resistance to protecting the conviction.
"It is apparent from the state's filing that they did not reassess the evidence in this case and instead are fighting to uphold the convictions of two innocent men at all costs. Karl Willis and Wayne Braddy have the truth on their side, and we remain confident that the truth will eventually set them free," Bergeron said.
At this point, Judge Cook will decide whether there is sufficient cause to hold a hearing on the case. Slaughter has told me on multiple occasions that he is eager to testify before Judge Cook. That would happen if Cook orders a hearing.