December 17, 2005
Beacon Journal staff writer
His victims have ranged in age from 7 to 70. From raping three girls to robbing an old man, Earl Gene Mann has done it all.
But it's his latest alleged victims that have put him in the spotlight of one of Summit County's most notorious murder cases.
Prosecutors say Mann is responsible for the crimes that Clarence Elkins had served in prison for nearly eight years.
Thanks to his family, Elkins was freed from prison Thursday.
The courage Clarence Elkins showed by picking up a cigarette butt dropped by his fellow inmate has put Mann on the threshold of a murder indictment that could take him to Ohio's Death Row.
For now, Barberton police and county investigators are working the Mann investigation.
Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh, after announcing that Elkins is innocent, said Mann will soon be charged in the 1998 murder of Judith Johnson and the rape and beating of her granddaughter.
Unlike the Elkins case, in which he was charged within hours of the homicide, authorities are being methodical in their investigation of Mann.
They have time on their side. Mann, 32, still has three years remaining on a prison sentence he received in 2002 for raping three girls.
It was through that case that Mann first made news. He was an ex-convict who had been in and out of prison through most of the 1990s, and the sentence he received was considered soft.
At 5 feet 11 inches, 160 pounds, he was wiry and quick-tempered, as witnessed by his arrest in 1999 for a bar fight in which he assaulted three men and threatened police.
Among his many tattoos are the words ``Ozzy'' across his left hand knuckles and a skull and flames adorning his abdomen.
He was born in Melbourne, Fla., but lived in Akron where he dropped out of Buchtel High School after the 10th grade.
Before going to prison, he liked to work on cars, smoke Marlboros, fish and hunt, and according to prosecutors, drink and fight.
He was named after his father, who died in 1995. And most of his family, including a mother and sister, live in Coshocton in southern Ohio. They could not be reached Friday.
Mann fathered three girls with Tonia Brasiel. And at times, he lived with the children and Brasiel on West Summit Street in Barberton. A couple of doors away lived Judith Johnson, a feisty, no-nonsensical 58-year-old grandmother, unafraid to put people in their place.
On June 7, 1998, Johnson's granddaughter spent the night. She frequently played with Mann's daughters. At some point, someone entered the home, brutalizing both. There was no sign of forced entry.
On the morning after the murder, the girl awoke and went knocking on Brasiel's door seeking help. Hours later, Elkins, based on his niece's statement, was in custody.
Meanwhile, Mann, who had escaped from an Akron halfway house days earlier, was on his way to Coshocton.
He returned to Northeast Ohio a short time later, when he was rearrested. And while serving time in prison for assaulting a man because he was black and for robbing a 74-year-old man of his wallet, Mann was brought back to court in 2002 to face charges of raping three girls, all under the age of 10.
At the time, prosecutors were criticized for the soft sentence he received after pleading guilty to rape. What could have been a lifelong sentence was reduced to less than seven years because prosecutors miswrote the indictment.
Still, Mann insists that he was a ``scapegoat.''
His lawyer in the rape case, Tom Adgate, would not comment Friday.
In a letter to the Beacon Journal in September when Mann emerged a suspect in the Johnson murder, the inmate said that if ``Summit County was up to it's old tricks again, they need not (hire me a public defender). I will be representing myself to ward off whatever this `situation' may be.''
The situation Mann was referring to was the Johnson murder. He had not yet been questioned by police.
``What kind of situation could this possibly be? Well if it's that `big' I guess I'll find out soon,'' Mann wrote.
At the time, Mann was housed in the same prison block as Elkins. In a phone interview in September, Mann said he barely talked to Elkins.
Mann didn't know that months earlier, Elkins secretly picked up one of Mann's cigarette butts and mailed it to his lawyer for DNA testing.
Mann has been linked to three key pieces of evidence: Johnson's vaginal swab and the niece's underwear and nightgown, prosecutors said.
Mann is now housed at the Toledo Correctional Institution, where he was moved last summer after attaching a padlock to a belt and attacking a fellow inmate in Mansfield, attorneys said.
Prosecutors also say that after many denials, Mann has admitted visiting Johnson at her home on the day she was murdered. The admission, and others prosecutors say they won't discuss, came after one of the five polygraph tests Mann flunked regarding the murder.
He has, however, continued to deny he killed Johnson.
``So if they have some DNA evidence that might implicate you, you wouldn't know how it got there?'' a reporter asked Mann in a prison telephone interview in September.
``Definitely,'' he replied.
Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or firstname.lastname@example.org