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Rosalynd Collier-Hammond

Other Ohio Women Exonerees
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In July 1995, Rosalynd Collier-Hammond of Cleveland, Ohio, called Floyd Young to discuss custody issues involving their daughter, known in court papers as A.Y. Collier-Hammond was then 34 and had just finished a three-year prison sentence for robbery. A.Y., who was then 11, had lived with Collier-Hammond prior to her incarceration, and it had been an unstable existence, fueled by the mother’s addiction to crack cocaine. Now, Collier-Hammond was out of prison, clean, and wanted to reestablish a relationship with her daughter.

Collier-Hammond and Young fought over the phone. A.Y. was angry at her mother. She didn’t know she had been in prison; she had been told by her father that Collier-Hammond had abandoned her.

After the call, Young would later testify, A.Y. told him she had been sexually abused while living with her mother and her mother’s then-fiancé, Reynard Hammond. “After that,” Young testified, “she start(ed) spilling a lot of things. ‘Daddy, sit down. I can talk about it now. My mama and Ray -- my mama used to put me between her legs and make me put my mouth on her vagina, and Ray was standing up over there with a belt. If I didn’t do it, he’ll rap me across my butt.’”

In December, Young reported the incident to Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services and then the police department in Euclid, the Cleveland suburb where he and A.Y. lived. An investigation was opened. A.Y met with a therapist who said the girl suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and was most likely sexually abused. On February 6, 1996, A.Y. wrote a letter at the therapist’s office that said Collier-Hammond had repeatedly forced her to perform oral sex on her from the age of four to just before she turned seven.

Collier-Hammond was charged on October 15, 1996 with 34 counts of rape. Hammond was separately charged with six counts of rape.

The trial in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas began on July 28, 1997. During jury selection, Hammond received word that he had “passed” a polygraph test regarding the rape charges. His attorneys moved to enter these results into evidence. The prosecution had been unaware of the testing and said a lack of stipulation between the parties made the results inadmissible. The Court of Appeals for Ohio’s Eighth Appellate District ultimately agreed with prosecutors that the evidence was inadmissible.

The trial began again on March 29, 1999, nearly two years later. That morning, the prosecution dismissed 22 of the 34 charges against Collier-Hammond. The remaining twelve were consolidated into three groups of four counts apiece. Those in the first group were said to have occurred when A.Y. was four; the second when she was five; and the third when she was six.

A.Y. was now fifteen and would later be described by the presiding judge as a “reluctant” witness, but she testified that her mother had repeatedly made her perform oral sex on her, often when Collier-Hammond was high on cocaine. Because the alleged actions had taken place so long ago, there was no physical or forensic evidence. Collier-Hammond did not testify, but Hammond did. He denied any wrongdoing by him or Collier-Hammond.

While not a witness to the alleged abuse, Young’s testimony helped corroborate A.Y.’s account by laying out a timeline of how he learned of what he said happened to his daughter and what he did with that information. He also testified about A.Y.’s inappropriate sexualized behavior with other children, which he said she had learned from her mother.

In closing arguments, the prosecutor said the state’s case hinged on the girl’s testimony. “The essence of this case is whether or not you believe (A.Y.),” she said. “I mean that’s it in a nutshell and that’s the $64,000 question.”

The jury’s verdict on April 2, 1999 was unusual. Hammond was acquitted. Collier-Hammond was acquitted on ten of the remaining twelve counts and convicted on only two counts from the earliest grouping, when A.Y. was four. Three days later, Collier-Hammond was given two concurrent life sentences.

A.Y.’s life unraveled after the trial. A runaway in the year before the trial, she was in and out of foster care. She eventually moved to California and struggled to support herself and her family through door-to-door sales.

In 2014, Desiree Collier, Collier-Hammond’s younger sister, found her niece on Facebook. They talked on the telephone, and A.Y. told her aunt that she had lied to the police and on the witness stand. Collier-Hammond hadn’t sexually assaulted her. A.Y. said she had falsely accused her mother under pressure from her father and because she was angry at Collier-Hammond. “I truly feared that man,” she would later say. “It was whatever he said I went along with. If not, I was going to get hurt.”

Desiree Collier brought her niece back to Ohio, and Collier-Hammond filed a motion for a new trial, based on her daughter’s recantation. Two days of hearings were held in the fall of 2015.

A.Y. was now 32. She acknowledged that, save for a few internet searches, she had made little effort in the 16 years since the trial to find out about her mother. Asked by Judge Robert McClelland why she should now be believed, A.Y. said: “Well, the testimony at trial I was under the influence. I was a kid. I was told that this is what I was supposed to do by my father and that’s what I did out of fear. Today I’m a grown woman. I literally know right from wrong and she’s innocent. She never did anything that I said that she’s done to me. All that came about because that’s what my father told me to say.”

Collier-Hammond and Hammond testified at the hearing, and each denied sexually assaulting A.Y. Floyd Young also testified, and his testimony contradicted much of what he had said at the trial. Then, he had said that A.Y. had explicitly told him what her mother did, and in turn he had told the police. Now, he said that his daughter had never given him those details. Instead, at his urging, she had told them only to the police and the therapist. In addition, Young also said at the hearing that A.Y. was a “habitual liar” when she was young.

Collier-Hammond’s attorneys argued that either way, based on the new statements of A.Y. and Floyd Young, the truthfulness of A.Y.’s trial testimony was called into question. McClelland ordered a new trial on November 3, 2015. Collier-Hammond was released from prison on bond on November 13, 2015.

The state appealed McClelland’s ruling, arguing that A.Y.’s recantation wasn’t sufficiently credible to warrant a new trial. In addition, the state said A.Y. had a motive to lie in order to help her mother successfully pursue a claim of wrongful imprisonment. Those arguments were rejected by the Court of Appeals for Ohio’s Eighth Appellate District on July 14, 2016. The court said that A.Y.’s recantation, when combined with Young’s shifting testimony, supported McClelland’s decision to grant a new trial. It also said that the state’s claim about A.Y.’s motive was merely speculative. At no point in the hearing was she or her mother asked about wrongful imprisonment claims.

Cuyahoga County prosecutors dismissed the two remaining charges against Collier-Hammond on April 17, 2017.

On January 2, 2019, Collier-Hammond was declared to have been wrongfully imprisoned by the state of Ohio, and she filed a claim for compensation with the Ohio Court of Claims on April 8, 2019.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 4/29/2019
State:Ohio
County:Cuyahoga
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1988
Convicted:1999
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:Life
Race:Black
Sex:Female
Age at the date of reported crime:27
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No