At about 3 p.m. on April 25, 2001, three men, one of whom was wearing a postal worker’s uniform and carrying a pistol, invaded the home of 32-year-old Belinda DeArmond in Columbus, Ohio. The men tied up DeArmond and her two children with duct tape, took $900 in cash and shot the family’s pit bull as it was trying to protect the victims.
After the men left, DeArmond freed herself and called police. She told them she recognized the man wearing the postal worker uniform as a man from the neighborhood that she knew as “Half Dead.” The day after the crime, DeArmond identified 25-year-old Dartangnan Hill as “Half Dead.” At the time, Hill was the leader of the Deuce-Deuce-Blood street gang and was known as “Half Dead” because he had been shot several times and survived.
Hill was arrested on May 1, 2001 and charged with participating in a criminal gang, kidnapping, aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery and illegal use of a firearm.
He went on trial in July, 2001 before a jury in Franklin County Common Pleas Court. DeArmond identified Hill as the man wearing the postal uniform.
Hill testified in his own behalf and denied he was involved in the crime.
On July 24, 2001, the jury convicted Hill of kidnapping, aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison.
Hill appealed the conviction, arguing that his trial lawyer had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to call a witness who would have testified that DeArmond had admitted that Hill was not involved in the crime. The appeal was rejected in June 2002 by the Tenth District Court of Appeals for Ohio which ruled that the trial lawyer’s decision not to call the witness was a permissible trial strategy.
In 2004, Hill’s new attorney, Carol Wright, obtained a statement from an inmate in an Ohio penitentiary saying that he was involved in a gang that committed home invasions and burglaries in Columbus and that his job was to rent cars for use in the crimes. The inmate said that he had rented the car used in the DeArmond robbery and that the car had been used in a second crime later that same day.
But the second attempt had gone awry and the car had been abandoned, the inmate said.
Wright tracked down evidence from the car rental agency showing that the inmate had in fact rented the car he described. And Wright located evidence from the Columbus Police showing the car had been impounded on the same day as the DeArmond crime.
The inmate also identified the man he claimed was responsible for the DeArmond crime. Photos of that man showed a strong resemblance to Hill.
Wright presented the evidence to the prosecutor who handled Hill’s trial. The prosecutor ultimately interviewed the inmate and became convinced that he was telling the truth.
On June 17, 2005, following an evidentiary hearing, Hill’s convictions were set aside. He was granted a new trial and released from prison on bond.
On September 1, 2005, the prosecution dismissed the charges. In February, 2006, a judge declared Hill was wrongfully convicted, which entitled him to seek compensation. In March 2007, the State of Ohio agreed to pay him $192,000 in compensation and another $68,000 to his attorneys for fees.
– Maurice Possley