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Wrongful conviction group steps into 'Guilty without Proof' case

Judges for Justice ask Lucas County prosecutor to remedy situation; Bates has yet to respond to motion for new trial.

TOLEDO, Ohio — When 13-year-old Maurice Purifie was found dead in the middle of Horace Street in central Toledo on June 15, 1998, detectives had no clues about who killed him.

There was no DNA. There were no witnesses, no obvious motive.

When a CrimeStoppers tip identified Travis Slaughter as a suspect, police quickly scooped him up and grilled him for close to six hours. Two dozen times Slaughter denied knowing anything about the crime, but he eventually broke and admitted to being at the scene.

With that admission, he might as well have pulled the trigger. He was going to be charged with the crime, and, he later told 11 Investigates, he was going to take Karl Willis and Wayne Braddy with him. The men had insulted him, and he wanted payback, he said in a TV interview.

Credit: WTOL
Det. Harold Mosley interviews Travis Slaughter.

In January, 2000, the men were convicted, based solely on the testimony of Slaughter.

On the stand, Slaughter said he offered the men $200 apiece to help him rough up the young teen because of a drug debt. When Maurice mouthed off, Slaughter said, the men took turns shooting him.

Credit: WTOL
Karl Willis and Wayne Braddy were convicted in early 2000 of killing Maurice Purifie on June 15, 1998. The state's key witness says he lied to police.
Credit: Purifie Family
Maurice Purifie, his life tragically cut short at age 13, was described by his family as the heart of the family. Maurice was a basketball player, already taller than his brothers. He was a straight-A student. He was in church revival the week of the killing. He had a kind heart, easy smile, and was always there for his friends.

Slaughter said he never paid Braddy or Willis for killing a young kid - a teen who nobody has ever been able to prove that Braddy or Willis even knew. And those two men later admitted to 11 Investigates - and Slaughter confirmed - that they ended a friendship with Slaughter over clothes he had stolen. It seems hard to imagine that they would then let the $400 slide for killing a child - a crime that could take away their freedom. And when asked about that, both men told 11 Investigates it makes little sense because they had nothing to do with the crime. 

The conviction was so unexpected that lead detective Bart Beavers sent a letter to the office of Prosecutor Julia Bates, commending her team for accomplishing the "unthinkable."

Credit: WTOL
A letter from Detective Bart Beavers to Prosecutor Julia Bates commends her team for accomplishing the "unthinkable" in convicting Braddy and Willis.

"You shouldn't be trying individuals based upon that low of evidence," says Michael Heavey, a retired Washington state judge. "You've got to recognize that it's the late '90s. It's a brutal crime that the community would love to see get solved. And they're under pressure, so unfair things happen. Unfortunately, they happened to two innocent men."

After being appointed to the King County Superior Court in 2000, Judge Heavey retired in 2013 and co-founded Judges for Justice with Judge Peter Deegan (Ret.) of Michigan. His group gets involved in cases where it feels that a wrongful conviction has taken place. The Wayne Braddy and Karl Willis conviction is such a case. 

He has studied much of the evidence and videos from 11 Investigates' 2019 investigation, "Guilty without Proof," and is convinced that the men are innocent and Slaughter was coerced into a confession.

Credit: Judge Michael Heavey

"If this case were a stolen, brand new Ford Taurus - from the Ford dealer - and Travis Slaughter said, 'Karl Willis and Wayne Bradley, Jr, did it,' It wouldn't even have gotten by the grand jury," Heavey says. "But because it is a brutal crime, eventually, jurors lower their threshold of what is proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Everything about it tells me it's a wrongful conviction."

Braddy and Willis have filed a motion for a new trial, based on a series of stories by 11 Investigates, including an interview with Slaughter in which he recanted his accusation against the men.

Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Gary Cook recently gave the motion a green light, meaning that Bates' office will get a chance to respond and then Braddy and Willis' team will respond to her response. Judge Cook will then hold a hearing to decide if there is a reason to order a new trial.

At this point, Slaughter is cooperating with the Ohio Innocence Project. Jury foreman Jon Crye has gone on camera to say that he now believes the men deserve a new trial. In a recent email to 11 Investigates, he said: "Please wish these gentlemen the best of luck. I really wish I knew then what I know now and am sorry that things turned out how they did."

FULL VIDEO COVERAGE: GUILTY WITHOUT PROOF

There is no evidence - or witness - that now points to the men's guilt. Despite this, Bates' office filed for an extension in submitting its response. She now has until Sept. 30.

"It is the opinion of Judges for Justice that Braddy and Willis are innocent. They were wrongfully convicted."  

Last Friday, Judges for Justice sent her a letter that read: "It is the opinion of Judges for Justice that Braddy and Willis are innocent. They were wrongfully convicted." It asks her to remedy the situation.

The American Bar Association's Rule 3.8: Special Responsibilities of a Prosecutor reads, in part, that a prosecutor shall "undertake further investigation, or make reasonable efforts to cause an investigation, to determine whether the defendant was convicted of an offense that the defendant did not commit."

And then, "When a prosecutor knows of clear and convincing evidence establishing that a defendant in the prosecutor’s jurisdiction was convicted of an offense that the defendant did not commit, the prosecutor shall seek to remedy the conviction."

Credit: The Blade
Prosecutor Julia Bates reviews the Cook brothers cases over the years before the judge prior to sentencing at Lucas County Courthouse on April 2, 2000.

Bates' office has not talked to 11 Investigates about this case since the airing of "Guilty without Proof," so there is no way to know if she has investigated in any way.

"Prosecutor Julia Bates has an outstanding reputation," Heavey says. She appears to be of the highest integrity. I hope that she can come around and listen. There's very little evidence to support this, In fact, there is no evidence at this point."