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Walter D. Smith

Other Ohio Cases with Mistaken Witness Identifications
On September 4, 1984, a man entered the Columbus, Ohio apartment of a woman, identified as J.B., and after several unsuccessful attempts, he raped her. J.B. told police that after the man left her apartment, he looked back at her as he walked by the front window. J.B. called the police.

On May 16, 1985, a woman, identified as L.L., called Columbus police and reported that she woke up at 4:45 a.m. and saw a man in her room. After the man performed oral sex on her. L.L. told police he tried to rape her, but was unsuccessful at first. However, he persisted and succeeded in raping her. L.L. said she got a clear look at her attacker because light was coming through a window.

On May 31, 1985, a woman identified as C.W. called Columbus police. She said she woke up at 3:30 a.m., saw a light under her bedroom door and, immediately thereafter, her locked bedroom door was broken down. She said a very big man came into her room, pushed her onto her abdomen and tried to have intercourse with her, but was unsuccessful. She said that as the man pulled her to the side of the bed, she was able to see his face. After a period of time, the man was successful in raping her.

All three women gave essentially the same description of their attacker: a Black man with short hair and a beard who had a muscular build. C.W. told police the man was wearing a belt under his clothing. L.L. worked with a police artist to create a composite sketch of her attacker.

In July 1985, 27-year-old Walter D. Smith robbed a gas station in Columbus and stole a .22-caliber semi-automatic pistol. On July 18, 1985, Smith attempted to rob another Columbus gas station while armed with the stolen pistol. He was quickly arrested and admitted to both crimes, saying that he was he had become addicted to cocaine as a body builder. After he was arrested, while being search, police officer Chester DeLong found that Smith was wearing a belt around his waist under his clothing.

Detective James Straight had been assigned to investigate C.W.’s rape and had taken her statement. Straight was in the robbery squad office when DeLong commented that Smith was wearing a belt under his clothes. This comment triggered Straight’s member about C.W.s report. Straight, who was familiar with the rapes of L.L. and J.B.

Straight interviewed Smith and learned that Smith had been involved in body building competitions. Smith said he worked out at the Scandinavian Health Spa.

On July 25, 1985, Straight took some photographs to C.W. to view. During the visit, Straight mentioned the Scandinavian Health Spa and C.W. became emotional. When she viewed the photographs and saw Smith’s photograph, she became visibly upset. She did not identify Smith, however.

On October 20, 1985, Straight interviewed Smith. During their conversation, Smith said that as a result of his drug problem, he could not sexually perform well. He said he did not care about women and as a result of the drugs, he had difficulty getting and maintaining an erection.

Ultimately, the women all identified Smith as their attacker in a live lineup.

In December 1986, Smith went to trial in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas on the three rape cases. He was accused of seven counts of rape, three counts of kidnaping, three counts of aggravated burglary, and two counts of aggravated robbery. By that time, Smith had reached an agreement to plead guilty to one of the two gas station robberies. He had been sentenced to six to 25 years in prison.

All three victims testified and each identified him as their attacker.

C.W. testified that couple of weeks after being raped, she saw Smith in the parking lot at the Scandinavian Health Spa and that two weeks later, she saw him inside the health spa. She said that was why she got upset when Detective Straight mentioned the spa. She said that when she saw Smith’s photograph, she believed it was the individual who had raped her, but she did not identify him to the detective because she was scared. C.W. said that when she was at the live lineup, she recognized Smith immediately after he entered the viewing room.

The defense and prosecution stipulated that rape kits had been prepared for each of the victims, and that slides and swabs had been examined. Each showed the presence of spermatozoa. There was no evidence presented as to whether any of the evidence was submitted for serological examination or comparison to Smith.

An acquaintance of Smith, James Bellard, testified for the defense that in September 1984 and in May 1985, Smith did not have a beard. Bellard said that Smith also had medium length hair.

Smith testified and said that while he had worked part-time at the Scandinavian Health Spa in 1980, he was not at the spa in September 1984 or in May 1985. He said that during that time, he was not training. He also said that even if he had been training, he would never have trained at the spa because it did not have the equipment he used while training. He said that in late 1984, he developed a cocaine habit after being mistreated in a body-building competition. As a consequence, he lost any desire for sex.

He said that in September 1984, he weighed 173 pounds and had jheri curls, which meant that his hair was long and chemically treated. He said he never competed with a beard and he typically shaved off all his body hair a couple of weeks prior to a competition. He said that at the time when his photograph was taken for the lineup, he had a beard because he was not shaving because his skin was sensitive and he didn’t have his “magic shaving powder.”

Smith denied every being in any of the three women’s homes and denied ever seeing them before their attacks occurred. He said that on September 4, 1884, the day J.B. was raped, he was at his girlfriend’s apartment.

Asked how he could be sure, Smith replied, “Well, she’s a dance choreographer, and she choreographed my posing routine, which we worked extensively on in preparation for contests.”

He could not recall where he was on May 16 or May 31, 1985, the dates of the two other rapes. He told the jury that when he was arrested for the attempted robbery of the gas station, he was wearing the belt around his abdomen under his clothing to carry a pistol. He said that was the only time he had ever worn the belt under his clothing.

On December 19, 1986, the jury convicted Smith 10 counts involving the attacks on L.L. and C.W. The jury acquitted him of the rape of J.B.

He was sentenced to 78 to 190 years in prison.

On appeal, Smith argued that his trial defense attorney had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to present in evidence a photograph of Smith taken on May 4, 1985 which showed that he was clean shaven, and by failing to call any alibi witnesses.

In July 1988, the Tenth District Court of Appeals of Ohio affirmed his conviction and sentence. The court rejected Smith’s claims regarding his defense attorney. The court held that “none of these alleged errors have merit. Defense counsel’s decisions…were tactical decisions, and appellant has not demonstrated that these tactical decisions were errors so serious that they prejudiced the defense.”

While in prison, Smith continually maintained his innocence and became a model prisoner. He completed a drug rehabilitation program and obtained an associate's degree in business from Wilmington College.

In 1987, Smith also began seeking DNA testing. He filed multiple requests and all were denied. His appeals of the denials also were unsuccessful. He spent nine years trying to obtain DNA testing, but was thwarted every time.

In 1996, the Innocence Project persuaded Michael Miller, then the chief prosecutor of Franklin County, to reopen the case and to agree to DNA testing. Independent tests were performed and excluded Smith as the source of the spermatozoa in both cases. An additional round of testing by the Franklin County prosecutor's office confirmed those results.

On November 7, 1996, by agreement of the prosecution, Smith’s convictions relating to the two rapes were vacated and the charges were dismissed. On December 6, 1996, Smith was released on parole for the gas station robbery.

Following his exoneration, Smith successfully sought compensation for the additional five years that he was imprisoned due to the rape convictions. In 2001, Smith was awarded $250,000 in state compensation.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date:  Before June 2012
Last Updated: 1/13/2024
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:Robbery, Kidnapping, Burglary/Unlawful Entry
Reported Crime Date:1985
Sentence:78 to Life
Age at the date of reported crime:27
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes