Ohio Public Defender


 

11/12/03 - PRESS RELEASE - COURT GRANTS NEW TRIAL 

TO COLUMBUS MAN WHO FACED THE DEATH PENALTY

Today, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the State of Ohio to release or retry Wyman Castleberry because the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office and the Columbus Police Department hid evidence of Mr. Castleberry’s innocence. Click HERE for the Sixth Circuit’s opinion.

Assistant State Public Defender Stephen Hardwick, who represented Mr. Castleberry in federal court, said, “The Castleberry case is a black mark against the death penalty. The Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office tried to kill Mr. Castleberry while withholding evidence of his innocence. A jury hearing the death penalty case of a bearded defendant should know that the dying murder victim said his killer was clean-shaven. A jury hearing the death penalty case of a fat man should know that witnesses saw two thin men at the scene of the crime. A jury should know that the State’s star witness planned to rob the victim. Mr. Castleberry’s jury never heard this important exculpatory evidence because the police and prosecutors hid it from the defense.”

Attorney Keith Yeazel, who represented Mr. Castleberry in postconviction proceedings, said, “The State hid exculpatory evidence that would have made a difference at Mr. Castleberry’s trial. Without this evidence, the jury convicted Mr. Castleberry of a crime he did not commit. Unfortunately, it has taken thirteen years for Mr. Castleberry to get some modicum of justice.” 

Attorney Gerald Simmons, who represented Mr. Castleberry at trial, said, “Without this evidence, my hands were tied at trial. The hidden evidence supported Mr. Castleberry’s continuous protestations of innocence. Even with only the evidence presented at the original trials, the defense team thought the jury would find Mr. Castleberry not guilty. The withheld evidence backs up Mr. Castleberry’s consistent claims of innocence.” 

The Franklin County Prosecutor’s office sought the death penalty against Mr. Castleberry for the 1990 unsolved killing of a drug dealer on Columbus’ east side. Mr. Castleberry’s first trial ended in a mistrial. At his second trial, a jury convicted Mr. Castleberry of aggravated murder with capital specifications, but refused to authorize the death penalty. Instead, the jury authorized only the minimum twenty-year prison term.

The Sixth Circuit found that the State, represented by the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office and the Columbus Police Department, withheld critical evidence of Mr. Castleberry’s innocence. The Court adopted the summary of the case presented in Mr. Castleberry’s brief:

The evidence, taken together, indicates that the State’s star witness was involved with the crime and that Mr. Soriano’s killer was shorter, thinner and more clean-shaven than Mr. Castleberry. More specifically:


A jury should be allowed to weigh the victim’s withheld statement that his killer was a clean-shaven man who was 5'6" to 5'8" against evidence that Mr. Castleberry was 5'9" to 5'10" and wore a goatee at the time of the crime.

 


A jury should consider the importance of the withheld testimony of three of the victim’s neighbors who—collectively—observed two thin men go in or near the building where the victim was shot and say, “You mother f . . . . . , I’ll kick your ass.” One of the witnesses then saw a car leave immediately after she heard the shot. Mr. Castleberry was 221 pounds at the time of the crime.

 


Finally, a jury should be allowed to weigh the credibility of the State’s star witness, Kenneth “Chief” Thomas, against the withheld testimony of a witness who told the police that “Chief” had planned to rob the victim.

No reasonable court can have confidence in the decision of a jury that did not hear this withheld evidence.

Assistant Ohio Public Defender Stephen P. Hardwick represented Mr. Castleberry in federal court. Attorney Keith Yeazel represented Mr. Castleberry in state postconviction proceedings. Attorney Gerald Simmons represented Mr. Castleberry at trial.

Contacts:

Stephen P. Hardwick

Assistant Ohio Public Defender

Office of the Ohio Public Defender 

614-466-5394



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