Exonerated death row inmate can sue Ohio -state supreme court

by Reuters
Wednesday, 28 October 2015 23:12 GMT

By Brendan O'Brien

Oct 28 (Reuters) - An Ohio man who spent six years on death row for a double murder he did not commit can pursue a wrongful imprisonment lawsuit against the state, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday.

Dale Johnston, 82, was found guilty in 1984 of murdering his stepdaughter and her fiance and sent to death row where he remained until his conviction was overturned in 1990.

He was released from prison after a court granted a motion to suppress his initial police interrogation and a series of rulings found that prosecutors failed to disclose key evidence and that testimony from a hypnotized witness was inadmissible.

Johnston sued Ohio for wrongful imprisonment in 1993, but a court ruled he had not proven he did not commit the murders.

After police reopened the case in 2008, Chester McKnight pleaded guilty to the murders and three years later Johnston won in a second wrongful imprisonment lawsuit against the state.

An appeals court overturned Johnston's victory, finding that a state law amendment in 2003 that allows for procedural errors to be taken into account in wrongful imprisonment cases did not apply retroactively. He appealed to the state's top court.

In an unanimous ruling on Wednesday, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the state law change should have been applied retroactively, reversing the appeals court decision and sending the case back to the trial court.

Johnston's lawyer could not be reached immediately for comment.

The Ohio Attorney General's Office will challenge the case at the trial court because it believes the lawsuit falls outside the statute of limitations and should not be allowed after the first one failed, spokesman Dan Tierney said. (Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by David Gregorio)

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