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James Ward

Other Theft Exonerations
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Shortly after 9 p.m. on October 10, 1990, Larry Robbins pulled his taxi into a gas station at Nelson Road and Fifth Avenue in Columbus, Ohio. He was approached by 28-year-old Ricardo Hardwell, who attempted to sell him some cigarettes.

Robbins declined. Hardwell then asked if he would drive him and 34-year-old James Ward to “the top of the hill,” an area near Cassaday Park in exchange for a carton of cigarettes. Robbins refused the offer because he had a customer to pick up.

Hardwell then opened a plastic bag containing what appeared to be a gun and demanded the keys to the taxi. Robbins later testified that he shoved the keys at Hardwell who caught them and then tossed the plastic bag to Ward, who was standing about five feet behind Robbins, saying that if Robbins gave any trouble to “off him.”

Hardwell then ordered Robbins to go into the gas station, which Robbins did. He turned to look toward the gas pumps and saw Hardwell get into the cab and drive off. Ward remained standing where he had been all along.

Police were notified and Hardwell was arrested less than 10 minutes later as he parked the cab near a church at Fifth Avenue near Cassaday Park. Inside the cab was a plastic bag containing cigarettes. No gun was ever found. Ward was arrested just a few minutes later as he walked about a half-mile away from the station. He was carrying a plastic bag containing cigarettes.

Ward and Hardwell were charged with aggravated robbery and robbery. They went to trial in Franklin County Court of Common pleas in January 1991.

Robbins identified both men and said he did not call for help during the incident because the statement Hardwell made suggested there was a gun in the bag. Robbins admitted it was possible that Ward didn’t know what was going on when Hardwell was threatening him and demanding the keys to the taxi.

Police testified that no gun was recovered although the area had been searched extensively along the paths that Hardwell drove and Ward walked.

Hardwell testified that he and Ward had been drinking earlier in the day and they were walking down Nelson Road when they reached the station. Hardwell said that Ward approached Robbins and asked him something, and Robbins walked away. Hardwell said he noticed the cab was running, so he jumped in and drove off.

Hardwell said that he and Ward were carrying plastic bags, but neither had a gun and denied that he threatened Robbins or demanded his keys. He said he had a spontaneous decision to get in the cab and drive off.

On January 9, 1991, the jury convicted Hardwell of aggravated robbery. He was sentenced to eight years in prison. The jury acquitted Ward of the robbery, but convicted him of a lesser-included offense of theft. Ward was sentenced to one year in prison.

Ward was released on July 12, 1991—less than two weeks before the Ohio Court of Appeals reversed his conviction and ordered the case dismissed. The court held that there was insufficient evidence to convict Ward.

Ward subsequently filed a lawsuit seeking compensation from the state of Ohio. On May 27, 1993, Judge David Cain ruled that Ward was a wrongly convicted person. The state of Ohio awarded Ward $18,500, which included $5,900 in attorney fees and costs.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 12/21/2018
State:Ohio
County:Franklin
Most Serious Crime:Theft
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1990
Convicted:1991
Exonerated:1993
Sentence:1 year
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:34
Contributing Factors:
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No