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Eugene Johnson

Other Cuyhoga County Cases
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About 5:30 p.m. on February 10, 1995, 19-year-old Clifton Hudson was shot to death in the middle of the street in the 1700 block of Strathmore Avenue in East Cleveland.

Police interviewed 14-year-old Tamika Harris who said she saw a man get out of a black sport utility vehicle and shoot Hudson. The gunman followed the vehicle on foot as it drove around a corner where he jumped back in, she said. Harris said the gunman was a skinny black man wearing a red and blue Tommy Hilfiger down jacket and a black hat.

Based on her description, police focused on a black Chevrolet Blazer that was parked in a driveway a few blocks from the shooting. Police kept the vehicle under surveillance and a few hours later, 17-year-old Derrick Wheatt and 16-year-old Laurese Glover were taken into custody when they tried to get into the vehicle.

During interviews with detectives, Wheatt and Glover said they were in the Blazer with a friend, 17-year-old Eugene Johnson, and stopped for a stop sign on Strathmore Avenue. They said they saw the gunman walk up behind Hudson and confront him. When Hudson tried to flee, the gunman chased him and shot him.

Wheatt said the gunman was slender and wearing a dark blue jacket. Glover said the shooter was wearing a hooded sweatshirt under a blue coat. Johnson recalled the gunman wearing a dark brown jacket.

Several hours into the interrogations, police swabbed all three for gunshot residue. A trace evidence analyst from the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s Office found results consistent with gunshot residue on Wheatt’s hands and the left side of his jacket. The interior and exterior of the passenger side of Blazer was found to have lead residue in three areas. No gunshot residue was initially found on Johnson’s hands or clothing, but a month later, a pair of gloves was discovered in Johnson’s jacket. The palm of the left hand glove produced a positive result for residue, the analyst reported.

Detectives showed Harris pictures of Johnson, Wheatt and Glover, told her that they had caught those involved in the shooting and asked her to identify the gunman. She selected Johnson, although she had told police she did not see the gunman’s face.

Wheatt, Glover and Johnson went to trial in January 1996 in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. Harris gave a different account to the jury than she had to police.

Harris said she did not see anyone get into or out of the Blazer. She said she was hiding by a nearby bridge and saw the gunman walk around from the back of the Blazer and then run into the street firing his pistol. The Blazer sped off and the shooter ran past her, she testified. She admitted she did not see the gunman’s face, but said she was 100 percent certain the gunman was Johnson.

The analyst testified about the findings of gunshot residue. Because the residue evidence pointed primarily to Wheatt, the prosecution argued that Wheatt fired first from the passenger seat of the Blazer, which caused the residue to wind up on his hands and jacket, and then passed the gun to Johnson in the back seat. The prosecution claimed to the jury that Johnson got out of the Blazer, went behind it, chased Hudson into the street and shot him.

At the close of the prosecution’s evidence, the prosecution offered a plea bargain for Wheatt and Glover in return for their testimony against Johnson. Wheatt was offered probation and Glover was offered dismissal of all charges against him. Both rejected the offers.

Two witnesses were called by the defense. Leroy Malone, who lived around the corner from the shooting, said he heard shots and saw someone in a dark jacket run behind the Blazer and up an embankment to railroad tracks. Malone said he knew Wheatt, Glover and Johnson and that the person he saw was not one of them. Eric Reed lived across the street from the shooting. He said he heard shots and went to the window and saw the gunman standing over Hudson. Reed said the gunman was lighter skinned than any of the defendants and that none of the defendants in court was the gunman.

On January 17, 1996, Wheatt and Johnson were convicted of murder and using a firearm. They were each sentenced to 18 years to life in prison. Glover was convicted of murder and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

In 2004, Johnson was granted a new trial after Harris recanted her eyewitness identification of him. Harris testified at a post-conviction hearing that after the police told her they had those involved, she picked Johnson because he was wearing a coat in the photograph that most resembled the coat worn by the gunman. However, in 2005, the Ohio Court of Appeals reinstated the conviction, ruling that Harris’s recantation did not overcome the gunshot residue evidence.

In 2009, the Ohio Innocence Project filed a motion for a new trial on behalf of Wheatt and Glover based on scientific advances in gunshot residue testing. The motion noted that the method used in the case to test for residue was known to be subject to false positives from materials other than gunshot residue and the method had been virtually abandoned by the scientific forensic community. Additionally, research showed a high likelihood of contamination from police sources such as being in a police car or a police station.

That motion was denied, however, and the ruling was upheld on appeal.

Ultimately, lawyers for the Ohio Innocence Project filed a request for reports in the case from the East Cleveland Police Department and, in 2014, obtained reports that had never been disclosed to defense lawyers.

The reports revealed that two brothers, Garry and Dante Petty, saw the shooting and said the gunman came from a post office parking lot, not the Blazer. Dante Petty said the gunman was a brother of a classmate—not Wheatt, Johnson or Glover, the reports said.

Moreover, the reports showed that Hudson and his brother, Derek Bufford, had both been threatened days before the murder and that shots had been fired at Bufford from a gray Chevrolet Cavalier. The reports revealed that police had shown the photographs of Wheatt, Glover and Johnson to Bufford and he said none of them was the person who shot at him.

The lawyers also discovered a letter written in 1998—two years after the three were convicted—by Carmen Marino, then a prosecutor in the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office.

The letter was sent to the East Cleveland Police Department and said that none of the police reports in the case were to be disclosed to defense lawyers for Glover, Wheatt and Johnson. Instead, Marino directed that the reports be sent to the prosecution’s office.

In March 2015, after a hearing on a motion to vacate the convictions based on the failure of the prosecution to disclose the evidence, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Nancy Margaret Russo granted the motion and ordered a new trial.

“As a whole, the (reports) effectively impeach the testimony of the state’s main identification witness Ms. Harris; provide an alternate identification of the shooter; remove the Blazer as a link to the shooter; destroy the state’s two-shooter theory of the case; and expose that other persons (definitely not the defendants) were physically threatening both Clifton Hudson and Derek Bufford in the days leading up to the shooting,” the judge ruled.

The judge also said, “A review of the evidence firmly supports the conclusion that Carmen Marino maliciously inserted himself into a criminal proceeding, and that he also sought to suppress evidence from the defendants, that he concealed public records from the citizenry, and that he subverted the process of justice.”

Wheatt, Glover and Johnson were released on bond on March 26, 2015—20 years after their initial arrest. The prosecution appealed Judge Russo’s ruling, but in May 2016, the Ohio Court of Appeals upheld the new trial order.

On August 15, 2016, the prosecution dismissed the charges. In February 2017, Wheatt and Glover filed a federal lawsuit seeking damages. Johnson filed a similar lawsuit in March 2017.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 8/17/2016
Last Updated: 3/25/2017
State:Ohio
County:Cuyahoga
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:1995
Convicted:1996
Exonerated:2016
Sentence:18 years to life
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:17
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No