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Tyeona Hunter

Other Hamilton County, Ohio, Exonerations
On October 13, 1993, a Hamilton County, Ohio grand jury indicted 20-year-old Tyeona Hunter on a charge of felonious sexual penetration of her three-year-old daughter, Yolanda.

On April 26, 1994, Hunter went to trial in Hamilton County Circuit Court and chose to have her case decided by Judge Ronald Ruehlman without a jury.

Marsha and Willie Hunter, Tyeona’s aunt and uncle, testified that after Tyeona became pregnant at age 16, she asked them if they would care for the baby until she could properly care for her. They agreed and obtained legal custody of Yolanda after she was born.

Eventually, Tyeona completed parenting classes, found a job, and rented an apartment. The domestic relations court investigated Tyeona and issued an order permitting Tyeona to visit with Yolanda every other weekend. A social worker recommended that Yolanda be returned to Tyeona.

However, on September 9, 1993, one week before the final custody hearing was to take place, Marsha took Yolanda to the hospital and reported that she believed that Tyeona had sexually abused Yolanda. Marsha said that after a weekend visit on September 3, Yolanda told her that Tyeona had inserted her finger in her “coo-coo” (her word for her vagina) while bathing her.

Dr. Javier Gonzalez Del-Ray testified that he examined Yolanda and found that the diameter of her hymenal ring was 10 millimeters. He said that a normal diameter for a child of Yolanda’s age was less than five millimeters. However, he also said he could not say that Yolanda had been sexually abused. He said that while Yolanda’s hymen was not normal, he could not say its deviation from normal was the result of someone penetrating her with a finger.

Yolanda, who was four years old by then, testified after Judge Ruehlman found her competent. Using a doll, she demonstrated how she said Tyeona put her finger in her “coo-coo.”

However, Yolanda gave bewildering and incorrect answers to several questions. Asked where she spent the previous night, she said she was with Tyeona. In fact, Tyeona was in jail and Yolanda spent the night with Marsha and Willie.

The prosecutor asked, “Have you ever been at Tyeona’s house where something happened and you didn’t like what happened?”

“No,” Yolanda replied.

“Has Tyeona ever done anything that you had to go tell at the hospital?” the prosecutor asked.

“No,” Yolanda said.

When asked to define a week, she said, “When it’s time when the lights are on.”

Tyeona testified that she had examined Yolanda’s vaginal area after a bath during one of the weekend visits because Yolanda had complained of pain there. Tyeona said she did not find any sign of a problem so she put baby powder on Yolanda and dressed her.

The trial was completed in one day. Judge Ruehlman convicted Tyeona of one count of felonious sexual penetration. During sentencing, Judge Ruehlman described Marsha and Willie as “heroes” for saving Yolanda from abortion and caring for her. He asked Tyeona to seek “penance.” He then sentenced her to 10 to 25 years in prison, saying, “That’s the max sentence. That’s it.”

Due to an oversight, Tyeona’s appeal was not timely filed. However, in December 1997, the Ohio Court of Appeals reversed the conviction and ordered the case dismissed.

“After a thorough review of Yolanda’s testimony, we determine that, although Yolanda appeared in general to understand the difference between the truth and a lie and to appreciate her responsibility to be truthful, her competency still was not established,” the court ruled. “Yolanda’s ability to receive accurate impressions of fact and to recollect those impressions was seriously flawed….Her understanding of and appreciation for the seriousness of the events in question was just not reliable.”

The appeals court also found Dr. Del-Ray’s testimony “at best, was conjecture based on speculation. Therefore, sufficient evidence that Tyeona committed any crime simply did not exist.”

The prosecution filed a petition seeking to appeal the reversal to the Ohio Supreme Court, but the petition was denied in April 1998.

Tyeona filed a lawsuit seeking a judicial declaration of innocence. On February 5, 2001, Judge J. Warren Bettis declared her factually innocent and she was awarded $93,708 in compensation from the state of Ohio.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 10/25/2018
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1993
Sentence:10 to 25 years
Age at the date of reported crime:20
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No