Cincinnati Post

UC law students convince board: Man is innocent
By Roy Wood Cincinnati Post staff reporter
December 18, 2004

The Ohio Parole Board has decided a Cleveland-area man has spent the last 25 years behind bars for a crime he may not have committed and voted unanimously for his release.

Gary Reece's parole early next year and move to the Tristate will mark the first successful intervention by the Ohio Innocence Project at the University of Cincinnati College of Law.

The Ohio Innocence Project, a non-profit organization established in 2003, employs full-time law students to review the cases of Ohio inmates who steadfastly maintain their innocence. Out of more than 300 requests for assistance, Reece's case is one of only six the students have accepted.

UC law students Allison DeVilliers, Megan Maag, Fred Sowar and Marion Haynes began researching Reece's case about a year-and-a-half ago after receiving a letter from Reece's wife Rita.

Reece, 45, was arrested in 1979 and charged with the rape and attempted murder of a woman who lived in his apartment building.

The victim, Kimberly Croft, claimed that her attacker, whom she later identified as Reece, spent more than 20 minutes in her apartment raping and stabbing her in the chest. Parts of her apartment and Croft herself were covered in blood when the police arrived, a brief from the students to the Parole Board said.

Reece, who lived down the hall in the same apartment building as Croft, became a suspect almost immediately because Croft described a man with characteristics somewhat similar to those of Reece, the brief said.

His conviction was based almost solely on Croft's uncorroborated testimony. Cleveland area reporters became suspicious of Croft a few years ago, however, when Croft began making strange statements, members of the Innocence project said.

"Reporters and others who have been following the case have noticed that she has made very strange statements in public, to the point of suggesting a lack of sanity.

"For example, on one television news program, she claimed that Gary Reece actually killed her during the attack in question, but that 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarves' brought her back to life,'" the Innocence Project students said in a brief filed with the Ohio Parole Board.

The students' research also led to discovery of a former college boyfriend of Croft, who hadn't seen Croft in 26 years and had never met Reece. The former boyfriend alleged Croft, who has changed her name since college, claimed to be a witch, had a history of self-mutilation and that her injuries during the alleged attack were consistent with past self-mutilation practices alleged by the ex-boyfriend.

"She would stab herself, or threaten to stab herself, when she did not get what she wanted or when she was desperate for attention," the former boyfriend wrote.

He described one incident in which he said she stabbed herself just below the breasts with a letter opener, and he said he sustained several cuts to his hands trying to wrest away the letter opener.

He said he recalled another incident when she tried to stab herself in the same area with a pair of scissors.

"It is difficult for me to describe (Croft's) personality, other than to say that I have never met anyone else who craved attention more than her, or who made the practice of fabricating stories and events such a regular part of her daily life," he said.

He noted that she studied acting.

"For her, however, acting went way beyond the classroom and was an integral part of her personality. She was constantly putting on huge dramatic performances, and most of the time I would learn that the factual event on which her dramatic performance was based had been extremely exaggerated.

"She loved playing the victim in a dramatic fashion, and would make up or exaggerate stories so that she could play the victim.

"As I got to know her better, it became clear to me that (Croft) did not fully understand the line between acting and reality. I began to understand that she suffered from serious emotional problems, and was very unstable.

"The more I learned about the Gary Reece case, the more I feel in my heart that Reece is innocent and Ms. Croft made up the entire event. I believe that she stabbed herself and cut herself severely, and then, realizing that she had gone too far and needed serious medical attention, made up a story to cover-up her self-mutilation. Or, she just made up the story for attention, because she knows that being a rape victim is a great way to get attention," the ex-boyfriend wrote.

The students also noted that no forensic evidence linked Reece to the crime scene.

Reece, who had 50 years left of a 75-year sentence, is expected to be released Feb. 22. The UC law students involved in the Innocence Project plan to be among the party that will gather to greet him when he leaves prison.

Reece is expected to move to Amelia to join his wife.

Reece said he's thankful to the Ohio Innocence project, describing those in the project as the only people who would listen while he was crying in the wilderness."

He said their work "is like a giant legal eraser eliminating the mistake that the legal system has made."

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