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Roger Dean Gillispie

Other Ohio Exonerations with Official Misconduct
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Shortly after 7 p.m. on August 20, 1988, 22-year-old twin sisters C.W. and B.W. were kidnapped by a lone gunman as they got into their car outside a Best Products store in Dayton, Ohio. The man wearing sunglasses entered the back seat and demanded to see their purses. He said that he was a store security guard and his name was “Roger.”

He then pointed a chrome handgun at them and ordered them to drive to a wooded area. There, he exposed himself, fondled their breasts, and forced them to perform oral sex on him. The man blindfolded both women and forced them to lie down in the back seat while he drove back to the Best Products store. He then fled with money from their purses, a lighter, and a pack of cigarettes.

After the women reported the assault to police, a 28-year-old woman, identified as S.C., reported that a man wearing sunglasses and armed with a chrome handgun abducted her on August 5. S.C. said the attacker got into her car when she came out of a store in a different shopping center. The man identified himself as a security guard and said his name was “Roger.” He ordered her to drive behind a vacant building, where he fondled her breasts and forced her to perform oral sex on him.

The victims all said that their attacker was wearing a gold medallion and had asked them to light a cigarette for him. They also reported that he told them that a family member had sexually assaulted him when he was young. They said the man was at least 6 feet tall or taller, and weighed from 200 to 250 pounds. S.C. said he had short light brown or dark blonde hair. B.W. and C.W. said he had light reddish-brown hair, and that none of his hair was gray. They said that he claimed to have lived in Columbus, Ohio and Corpus Christi, Texas, and that he made a living by killing people for $1,000.

Detective Gary Bailey and his supervisor, Sgt. Steven Fritz, believed that the same man was responsible for all three assaults. B.W. and C.W. helped police create a composite drawing of the suspect. That drawing was very similar to the drawing created by police with the help of S.C.

More than a year after the crimes, Richard Wolfe became chief of security at a nearby General Motors plant. Wolfe came to the detectives and provided a copy of the photo identification card of 24year-old Roger Dean Gillispie, who had been a security guard at the plant until Wolfe fired him. Wolfe believed that Gillispie resembled the composite sketches.

Another year later, in June 1990, Detective Scott Moore took over the investigation, which had stalled. Moore created a photographic lineup using Gillispie’s photo identification card and photographs of five other men. He showed the lineup to B.W. and C.W., and both identified Gillispie as their attacker. S.C. also viewed the lineup and selected Gillispie as well.

Moore interviewed Gillispie, but ended the interview shortly after it began when Gillispie denied any knowledge of the attacks.

Moore then obtained a search warrant for Gillispie’s home. Although the victims had given precise descriptions of the attacker’s clothing and shoes, police found nothing matching their descriptions, nor did they find any jewelry, sunglasses, belts, cigarettes, or handguns.

In October 1990, Gillispie was indicted by a Montgomery County grand jury on nine counts of rape, three counts of kidnapping, three counts of aggravated robbery, and three counts of gross sexual imposition. He was charged with committing the crimes with a firearm.

The defense challenged the lineup as being unfairly suggestive because the photo of Gillispie had a yellow background while the other photos had blue backgrounds. In addition, the photo of Gillispie was a close-up headshot, while the other photos were taken from a distance. Gillispie’s photo had a matte finish, while the others did not. The judge, however, allowed the state to offer the photographic lineup as evidence.

Gillispie went to trial in Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas. On February 12, 1991, a jury found him guilty of all charges except for two of the robbery counts, largely based on the testimony of the three victims and their identifications of him as the attacker. Before he was sentenced, however, Gillispie was granted a new trial after a defense investigator learned that hairs recovered from B.W. and C.W., which were said to have been lost, were still in evidence. The crime laboratory had analyzed the hairs and excluded Gillispie as the source.

In June 1991, Gillispie went to trial a second time. The prosecution presented the same evidence as the first trial. The defense presented the hair analysis evidence. Gillispie testified and denied involvement in the crime. He offered partial alibis for the dates of the crimes. He said that on the weekend that B.W. and C.W. were attacked, he was boating in Kentucky with two friends—both of whom testified and supported Gillispie’s account. On the day S.C. was attacked, Gillispie rode around in a friend’s new convertible and they went to another friend’s home for a party—testimony supported by those friends as well.

The defense witnesses also agreed that Gillispie had dark brown hair, but had started to go gray at the temples in the 1980s while he was still in high school. They told the jury that he had an extreme dislike for cigarettes, was never seen with a handgun, and never wore any jewelry around his neck. The witnesses said that since Gillispie’s father also was named Roger, Gillispie went by Dean, his middle name. Some of the witnesses noted that Gillispie had a cleft chin—a detail not mentioned by any of the three victims.

The jury initially voted 8-to-4 to acquit Gillispie, but on June 12, 1991, after lengthy deliberations, they convicted him of all counts. He was sentenced to 22 to 56 years in prison.

The Ohio Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions in 1993. For the next decade, Gillispie filed a series of unsuccessful petitions for a new trial and for DNA testing of the hairs. In 2003, after the Ohio Innocence Project began representing Gillispie, the request for testing was granted. The testing revealed that all of the hairs in evidence (two had gone missing by then) belonged to B.W. and C.W. A separate motion for DNA testing of other items of evidence was denied.

In 2008, Gillispie, whose legal team had been bolstered by the addition of Jim Petro, the former Ohio Attorney General, filed a post-conviction petition seeking a new trial. The petition presented evidence that Kevin Cobb, an Ohio correctional officer, had committed the crimes. The prosecution opposed the petition and it was dismissed.

Gillispie appealed. The Ohio Court of Appeals reversed and ordered an evidentiary hearing. The court noted that Cobb had used the name “Roger” while Gillispie went by Dean, that Cobb had an authoritative voice as the victims said their attacker had. In addition, the court stated, Cobb had bragged of working as a contract killer for the CIA, and photos of Cobb, including one from 1990, resembled the composite sketches.

The case was remanded to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing. In 2010, the trial court judge, after hearing the evidence about Cobb, again denied Gillispie’s petition for a new trial.

In the meantime, in 2009, Gillispie filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The petition asserted that the prosecution had failed to reveal that after an investigation of Wolfe’s tip, detectives Fritz and Bailey concluded that Gillispie was not the attacker and eliminated him as a suspect.

While Gillispie was appealing the denial of his state court motion for new trial based on the evidence of the alternative suspect, the federal court ordered a hearing on his habeas petition.

At the hearing, detectives Bailey and Fritz, who were no longer with the police department, testified that Richard Wolfe came to them more than a year after the crimes and said he believed Gillispie resembled the composite sketches.

Fritz testified that Wolfe made several follow-up calls to Fritz to check on the progress of the investigation. Ultimately, Fritz informed him that they had eliminated Gillispie as a suspect, based on “extreme differences” between Gillispie’s physical appearance and the descriptions of the attacker. Gillispie had a much slighter build and had a significant amount of prematurely gray hair.

In fact, one of the victims, some weeks after the crime, recalled seein the pants size of the rapist on a tag inside his pants. The detectives looked up Gillispie’s height and weight in the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles records and realized that Gillispie was far too big to fit into pants of that size. In addition, Gillispie had a solid job and clean record—facts that did not fit the profile of such a brazen rapist. In addition, the detectives were suspicious of Wolfe’s tip and motivation because the wanted poster with the composite drawing had been posted at the GM plant since shortly after the assaults but Wolfe only went to police after he had a “nasty fight” with Gillispie and fired him.

Fritz said that as tips went, the one from Wolfe regarding Gillispie was “a particularly unreliable one.” Bailey supported Fritz’s conclusion that Gillispie was not a viable suspect.

In December 2011, the U.S. District Court granted Gillispie’s habeas petition and granted him a new trial. Gillispie was released on bond on December 22, 2011 after the prosecution said it would appeal the ruling.

In April 2012, the Ohio Court of Appeals also granted Gillispie a new trial, ruling that the evidence of the alternative suspect could persuade a jury to acquit him. That decision in effect rendered the federal habeas decision moot.

Gillispie’s legal team moved to dismiss the charges on the ground that the original police reports that detailed how Gillispie was eliminated as a suspect were missing and could not be found. In November 2015, Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas Judge Steven Dankof granted the defense motion to dismiss the indictment.

The prosecution appealed to the Ohio Court of Appeals, which upheld Judge Dankof’s ruling. The prosecution sought leave to appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court, but on July 26, 2017, the court refused to hear the appeal and the case was officially dismissed.

Gillispie filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in 2013 seeking damages for his wrongful conviction. The lawsuit was still pending in July 2017.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 8/7/2017
State:Ohio
County:Montgomery
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:Sexual Assault, Robbery, Kidnapping
Reported Crime Date:1988
Convicted:1991
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:22 to 56 years
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:23
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No