Cleveland Plain Dealer

City to pay $1.6 million for man's prison time  
Cleveland also agrees to review old cases

June 08, 2004
by Connie Schultz

Michael Green will get a lot of money from the city of Cleveland, but he's also getting what he wanted most change in the justice system.

The city agreed Monday to pay Green $1.6 million for the 13 years he spent in prison for a rape he didn't commit. The payment is only a fraction of the $10 million Green demanded in a lawsuit, but he accepted less because the city also agreed to re-open more than 100 cases that included testimony from the same forensics lab worker who falsely testified in Green's trial.

"This is virtually unprecedented," said Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project in New York City, which used DNA evidence to free Green. "This is a model for the rest of the country, and to my knowledge this is the first time that public officials have voluntarily agreed to do this."

The city will pay Green in annual installments through 2013. He has already received about $1 million from Ohio in restitution.

"This is what I always wanted," said Green, 38, who is now married and lives on Cleveland's East Side.

"I said all along, even if I got no money at all for what happened to me, if I can help other inmates then this entire ordeal was worth it."

As a result of the settlement, the city will conduct a "forensic audit" on the following:

All cases from Jan. 1, 1987, on in which forensic lab technician Joseph Serowik testified at trial.

Any cases in which Serowik performed serology and/or hair analysis before the defendant pleaded guilty before trial.

A random selection of all other files involving Serowik and serology and/or hair evidence.

A random selection of other forensic lab employees where serology and/or hair evidence has been analyzed since 1987.

Green's lawsuit, filed in May 2003 in U.S. District Court, named the city of Cleveland, the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and some of its officers, as well as Green's former attorneys, James Draper and Dana Chavers.

Negotiations continue with the Clinic, lawyers said. Suits against the others are also pending.

Green's lawsuit accused investigators of suggesting information to the victim that helped her pick out his picture in a photo lineup after she initially failed to identify Green. The suit further alleged that investigators fabricated evidence against Green.

The Innocence Project
obtained Green's release in October 2001 after DNA tests on the evidence from the crime scene - a washrag the rapist used to wipe himself after attacking a Cleveland Clinic patient in 1988 - proved Green was innocent.

The victim died of cancer in 1989. Green's ordeal was chronicled in The Plain Dealer's 2002 series "The Burden of Innocence."

A week after the series ran, Rodney Rhines confessed to the rape. He is serving a five-year prison sentence.

During Green's trial, Serowik offered testimony on lab results that didn't match his raw data.

"Serowik testified about hairs in the case and he just simply got it wrong," said Cincinnati attorney Alphonse Gerhardstein, who also represents Green.

"He matched pubic hair to head hair and he said one could actually cite statistics to defend his analysis. He had no such basis for saying that.

"In Michael's case, he said the washrag had a neat stain [only the rapist's semen], when that was physically impossible after a rape. It obviously contained both vaginal and penis secretions after the rape. [Serowik's] raw notes reflected that, but then he testified differently. When we asked him to pull his lab reports from the 10 cases previous to Michael's, it was painfully clear he regularly testified contrary to what he wrote in his notes."

Everyone involved credits Cleveland's law director, Subodh Chandra, for leading the way toward settlement.

"The most courageous thing to do is say, 'Oh, my God, there might be more mistakes,' " Scheck said. "It is so unusual for public officials to take this stance."

Chandra said the city "had to do the right thing. . . . I looked at Michael and said, 'Look, I am not making it up when I say the city is in financial dire straits. If there are more Michael Greens out there, we want to know, and we want to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you and do the right thing. The time you spent in prison should mean something for other people.' "

That's what convinced Green.

"When he [Chandra] said that to me, I knew he meant it, and it was exactly what I wanted to hear," Green said Monday. "This is a chance for me to reach through the bars and help the inmates I left behind."

The city has hired attorney James Wooley, of the Baker and Hostetler law firm, as special master to oversee the forensic audit.

If the audit determines wrongdoing on the part of the forensics lab, then notice will be given to each person convicted in courts during that time period, their attorneys and the chief prosecutor and presiding judge in the jurisdictions where they were convicted.

Gerhardstein and Scheck also will be notified.

Those on death row or still incarcerated will receive priority.

"It may turn out that a lot of these people are guilty," Scheck said.

"The most important point is this: Cleveland is using the very best model to improve the quality of the lab, because every time an innocent person is convicted a guilty one walks away."

When asked Friday if Serowik still worked for the city, the room full of lawyers fell silent for a moment. Finally, Chandra spoke.

"He's still in the lab. He still has his job. He's not doing serological or hair analysis anymore."

Late Monday afternoon, though, both Serowik and his supervisor, Victor Kovacic, were placed on unpaid leave until the city completes its investigation. Both were unavailable for comment.

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