On June 27, 1995, 17-year-old Phillip White was returning to his Cincinnati, Ohio, home late at night when 35-year-old Anthony McClain approached him to purchase drugs.
Two neighborhood residents said they saw McClain accompany White behind two parked vans and then heard four gunshots. White stumbled around the vans and reached his home where he collapsed and died. McClain was seen running away.
McClain was arrested days later and charged with murder and unlawful use of a firearm—though no weapon was recovered.
McClain went on trial in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court in September 1995. Robert Williams, a friend of White, testified that he was walking to White’s home when he saw White and McClain go behind the vans, heard gunshots and saw McClain flee on foot. Williams said he followed White into his home and remained with him until he died.
Another witness, Lester Gilbert, testified he was on a nearby porch and saw White and McClain conversing. He said they walked around the corner out of his view. He then heard gunshots and saw White running to his home.
McClain testified in his own defense and admitted he went behind the vans with White, but denied shooting him. McClain said a man unknown to him came up and shot White, who, police later said, was selling fake narcotics known as “fleece.”
On October 3, 1995, a jury convicted McClain of murder and the weapons charge. He was sentenced to 18 years to life in prison.
In 1996, the Ohio Appellate Court upheld the convictions. The court noted that the only difference between McClain’s account and that of witnesses was that McClain said someone else shot White.
In 1998, however, a private investigator hired by McClain’s family tracked down Maxine Mobley, a resident of the neighborhood where the shooting occurred. The investigator used a hidden tape recorder to record Mobley saying that on the night of the crime, she heard shots and went to her front porch. She said that she saw a tall thin, young white man running from the murder scene. (McClain is African American, as was White, the victim.) The white man, she said, got into a car and said, “I shot the (obscenity).”
In 2002, McClain filed a motion for a new trial based on the interview. At that hearing, police disclosed that Mobley had made the same statement to police at the time of the shooting and that it was tape-recorded, but the statement was not turned over to the prosecution or the defense.
The motion was denied by the trial court, but the Ohio Appellate Court reversed that ruling, vacated McClain’s conviction and ordered a new trial, ruling that the failure by the prosecution to disclose the interview with Mobley had violated McClain’s right to a fair trial.
McClain went on a trial a second time in July 2006. On July 31, 2006, a jury acquitted McClain and he was released.
– Maurice Possley
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.