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James Vaughan III

Other Ohio Cases with Perjury or False Accusations
On September 10, 2006, 28-year-old James Vaughan III and Michael Cogan, went to Kelly Ross’s home in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Serena Miller, Ross’s friend, was there as well. During the night, both women drank heavily and decided to conduct a séance to try to contact their deceased mothers.

When Miller’s nine-year-old daughter fell asleep during the séance, Miller asked Vaughan to carry the girl to bed. Vaughan did so and returned to the living room. A few minutes later, Miller went into the bedroom and after a few minutes came back out. She said Vaughan and Cogan had to leave because Miller’s daughter and Ross’s daughter were not feeling well.

After Vaughan and Cogan left the police were summoned to the home because Miller reported that her daughter said that Vaughan had touched her “privacy.”

Vaughan was arrested on September 23, 2006 and charged with raping a child. He went to trial in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas in March 2008, electing to have his case decided by a judge without a jury.

The nine-year-old girl testified that Vaughan had digitally penetrated her vagina and anus. An unlicensed physician was permitted to testify—over objection by the defense—that she had examined the girl. The physician testified that although there was no physical evidence of penetration, she believed that digital penetration could have occurred and not left any physical evidence. She testified that she based her conclusion that the girl had been penetrated on what the girl’s mother told her.

The girl’s mother testified about her daughter telling her that Vaughan had penetrated her. A police officer testified that he interviewed the girl’s mother and testified before the grand jury. The officer did not interview the girl.

Vaughan testified and denied that he touched the girl inappropriately in any way.

On March 28, 2008, Common Pleas Judge Joseph Russo found Vaughan guilty of raping a child—a crime that carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.

Vaughan’s family retained new defense lawyers who began re-investigating the case. A private investigator discovered that the girl had been referred to a social worker named Terrie Stout in Summit County where the girl lived with her mother. 

The prosecution and Vaughan’s original trial lawyer had issued subpoenas for any reports of interviews with the girl, but because Stout had left the agency by the time the subpoenas arrived, no reports were ever sent. Neither the prosecutor nor the defense lawyer followed up.

Stout told Vaughan’s new lawyers that the girl never said she was digitally penetrated and that at most Vaughan may have come in contact with her on the outside of her clothes in the process of carrying her to bed.’

The defense filed a motion for a new trial, which was granted in January 2009. In preparation for the retrial, the defense commissioned construction of a life-size replica of the bedroom, hallway and living area of Ross’s home to demonstrate how small the quarters were and how close everyone was at the time when the girl claimed to have been penetrated.

At the retrial, Stout testified that the girl did not say she was penetrated and Vaughan again denied he touched the girl inappropriately. On June 4, 2009, a jury acquitted Vaughan and he was released.

In 2010, Vaughan filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Shaker Heights police department and the city of Shaker Heights. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2015.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/8/2015
State:Ohio
County:Cuyahoga
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2006
Convicted:2008
Exonerated:2009
Sentence:Life without parole
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:28
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No