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Tyrone Ellington

Other Ohio Exonerations
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On July 9, 1988, a 10-year-old boy reported that he was abducted and raped by a man in Yellow Creek Park in Struthers, Ohio.

The boy, who was white, said his attacker was a black man about 40 years old, 5 feet 10 inches to 6 feet tall, with a heavy build and a potbelly. The man was wearing a blue baseball cap, blue work shirt, and blue work pants, similar to what someone working at a gas station would wear. The boy said the man had a short braided ponytail, wore brown-rimmed glasses, and was short of breath.

The boy said the man was carrying a blue gym bag with a red or orange-red stripe, and that he drove a tan-colored car with a blue door. The boy helped police create a composite sketch of his attacker.

The rape was the third such attack on a young white male by a man fitting the same description. The prior two attacks occurred in parks in nearby Youngstown, Ohio.

In August 1988, a police officer saw the composite sketch and believed it resembled 31-year-old Tyrone Ellington, who had a prior criminal record for minor non-violent crimes. A police alert was sent out, and Ellington was arrested on a charge of drinking in public after he was spotted drinking in a car with friends.

On August 12, 1988, police assembled a photographic lineup that included 31-year-old Tyrone Ellington.

The victims from all three attacks viewed the lineup. The two boys who were attacked in Youngstown did not identify Ellington, but the 10-year-old who was attacked in Struthers did.

In January 1989, Ellington went to trial in Mahoning County Court of Common Pleas. The victim testified that he was positive Ellington was his attacker.

The boy testified that he was riding his bike in the park when the man approached him and said he looked too big for the bike. When the boy agreed, the man said, “I know where there are some bigger bikes.”

The boy testified that at the man’s suggestion, he hid his bike by a fence. He then walked with the man toward some rocks where the man said the bigger bikes were. The boy said the man had to walk slowly because he was breathing very hard.

Behind the rocks, the man took a knife out of the gym bag, held it to the boy’s neck, and threatened to cut his head off if he struggled.

Rev. Roy Myers, director of a resident program at the New Castle, Pennsylvania Rescue Mission, testified for the defense that Ellington had stayed at the mission from June 5 until July 10, 1988. Rev. Myers said Ellington’s hair was short and was not in a braid.

Jason Rankin, an employee of Allied Human Services in New Castle, Pennsylvania, testified that he saw Ellington June 8 and again on July 9, 1988—the day before the crime. Rankin said he never saw a ponytail or braids on Ellington.

However, the prosecution then called Margaret Peter, who testified that she saw Ellington in June 1988 and at that time, he had a “little ponytail with braids.”

On January 29, 1989, the jury convicted Ellington of rape and kidnapping. He was sentenced to life in prison.

While the case was on appeal, Ellington’s trial defense attorney, Paul Gains, who was a former Youngstown police officer, learned from Youngstown police officer William Rafferty that they arrested Johnny Lee Jones for the two rapes of young white males in April and August 1989.

In December 1989, Gains filed a motion for a new trial. In an affidavit attached to the motion, Rafferty said that Jones was a black male, 5 feet 9 inches tall, weighing 220 pounds, and wearing glasses.

Rafferty said one of the victims told police his attacker approached him in a park and lured him to a secluded area with the promise of a bicycle. He then produced a knife and raped the boy.

Rafferty also said Jones had admitted to him that he had worn his hair in braids and in a braided ponytail prior to September 1988. Rafferty had conducted a search of Jones’s residence and found three nylon gym bags, one of which was blue with a red stripe.

Jones, who had been imprisoned from 1976 to 1987 for rape, aggravated burglary, and robbery, bore a striking resemblance to Ellington. Moreover, both men walked with a waddle due to their weight and both had breathing difficulties.

Rafferty said that in the Youngstown rapes, “The perpetrator would locate his victim…in wooded areas where they would be playing. The perpetrator would then engage in conversation with the intended victim and would lure the victim to a secluded area with a promise of bicycles or parts of bicycles, which the perpetrator claimed were hidden away in that area. Once the victim was lured to the secluded area, the perpetrator would then pull a knife, threaten the victim,” and rape the victim.

Gains also attached affidavits from Roy Jordan, who said that in the summer of 1988, Jones drove a rust-colored car with a dark colored door. Jones’s parole officer also provided a sworn statement that Jones drove a gold-colored car with a dark-colored door.

The victim’s mother also provided a sworn statement that after the lineup, while they were still in the police station, her son told her that he didn’t think Ellington was his attacker. She said that she and her son were in a police car to be driven home when she told the detectives that what her son had said. The officers told her, “We know it’s him.”

Gains also attached a sworn deposition of the boy, during which he said one of the detectives told him before the lineup that he had to pick one of the five suspects. The boy said that Ellington looked different from his attacker—he had wider cheeks and his glasses were a different shape than the glasses his attacker wore.

The prosecution responded with written statements from the police officers who conducted the lineup. The officers denied that the boy ever expressed doubt about his identification or that the boy’s mother said anything about her son’s misgivings.

The motion for new trial was denied, however, by Mahoning County Common Pleas Judge Elwyn V. Jenkins, who had presided over Ellington’s trial.

Gains appealed and in August 1991, the Ohio Court of Appeals reversed the denial of a new trial and ordered that a hearing be held on the motion. By that time, Jones had been convicted of the Youngstown rapes.

On September 19, 1991, during the hearing before Judge Charles Bannon (Judge Jenkins had retired), the boy testified that Ellington was not his attacker. The boy’s mother testified that the police had assured her that Ellington was the attacker. After a luncheon recess, the prosecution chose not to continue with the hearing and put the police officers on the witness stand.

Instead, the prosecution asked Judge Bannon to vacate Ellington’s convictions. The motion was granted, the prosecution dismissed the charges and Ellington was freed.

Ellington subsequently filed a lawsuit and received a judicial declaration that he was a wrongly convicted person. The state of Ohio then awarded him $65,592 in compensation. Ellington also filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Struthers police department. The case was settled in 1994 for an undisclosed amount.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 12/11/2018
State:Ohio
County:Mahoning
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:Kidnapping
Reported Crime Date:1988
Convicted:1989
Exonerated:1991
Sentence:Life
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:31
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No