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Maurice Bradford

Other Exonerations in Cuyahoga County, Ohio
In 2015, a series of shootings took place across Cleveland, Ohio, that were said to be tied to an ongoing battle between two gangs, the Broadway Gang and the Fleet Boys.

Both gangs were centered in the city’s southeast. According to police, one of their fights, on July 3, 2015, involved a car chase along Superior Avenue, a few miles north of the gangs’ home turfs, and ended when a seven-year-old boy, known in court records as E.J., got caught in the crossfire and shot in the hand.

On August 19, 2015, a Cuyahoga County grand jury indicted 17 people on a wide range of crimes related to this spate of gang violence. On November 9, 2015, five of the 17 were re-indicted on nearly 50 counts. Those five defendants were 28-year-old Maurice Bradford; his brothers, Bradley Bradford and Lawrence Black; his mother, Edwina Neal; and Andre Ingram.

None of these indictments included the events of July 3, and the investigation into E.J.’s shooting continued. Witnesses said that a sedan appeared to be chasing a Dodge Charger down Superior Avenue, and that most of the shots were coming by the sedan’s occupants. The Charger turned south down East 92nd Street, even though it was one-way going north, and the shots continued. Cleveland police recovered 40 shell casings and submitted them to the National Integrated Ballistics Identification Network (NIBIN), which is maintained by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

A report prepared by NIBIN said that several of the casings were consistent with casings tied to three incidents between the Fleet and Broadway gangs: A shooting on May 17, 2015, where Maurice Bradford was shot; a separate drive-by shooting at his house on July 6, 2015; and a firebombing of Bradford’s home. Police later recovered the gun from a member of the Broadway gang. He was not charged.

Detective Aaron Reese would later testify that the ballistics report, including the mention of Maurice Bradford, “jogged” his memory. He remembered meeting Bradford and his mother, when Neal had called the police to report a stolen vehicle, a Dodge Charger. It turned out that the car had not been stolen; police had towed it as part of the investigation into the shootings that led to the November indictments against Neal, her sons, and Ingram. Reese said he later learned the Charger had bullet holes.

By this time, Bradford was in jail, where he had been since the August 19 indictment, and Reese obtained search warrants for the contents of Bradford’s cellphone and for records from his service provider that indicated what cellphone towers the phone pinged at the time E.J. was shot.

On March 23, 2016, Bradford was indicted on 10 counts tied to E.J.’s shooting: attempted murder, two counts of felonious assault, two counts of discharge of firearm on prohibited premises, four counts of improperly discharging a firearm into a habitation, and one count of having a weapon while under disability.

This case, referred to in court records as the “Superior Case,” and the one including his family members, referred to as the “Gang Case,” were consolidated for purposes of a bench trial before Judge Jose Villanueva in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. Prior to trial, Neal pled guilty to improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle. Ingram pled guilty to participating in a criminal gang and felonious assault. Neither testified at the consolidated trial.

Prosecutors attempted to place Maurice Bradford at the shooting through the use of his cellphone records and witness testimony about the vehicles involved in the shooting. They also tried to show that Bradford was a gang member.

E.J. testified and said he was playing outside near the corner of Superior and East 92nd Street when he heard “pops” and “whistles.” His father yelled at him to run and duck. E.J. then saw the blood on his hand. E.J. said he did not see a car drive past him, but he did see a car make the first turn off of East 92nd Street.

Oina Friedman said he was at a barbecue at a friend’s house that was about 10 houses in from the corner when he heard the shooting and then saw a dark sedan chasing a Charger along Superior Avenue. The Charger turned south on East 92nd Street, going the wrong way. “The guy in the Dodge Charger, he appeared to just be trying to get away. He was — he wasn’t having whatever it was. I don’t know what it was.”

Friedman said that as the Charger turned the corner onto Shipherd Avenue at the end of the block, he could see a single hand pointing a gun out of the vehicle’s rear passenger window. He estimated that the occupants of the sedan fired 40 shots and the occupants of the Charger fired about six shots. He could not identify anybody in the Charger.

None of the shell casings were tied to Maurice Bradford. In his testimony, Reese said he could not tell whether Bradford “was shooting, being shot at” or just present during the shooting. A police firearms expert testified about the shell casings found at the crime scene and the NIBIN report that linked some of the casings to other shootings. The expert also said none of the evidence implicated Bradford as the shooter.

During the shooting that left E.J. wounded, a house on the east side of East 92nd Street was hit on the north side, closest to Superior Avenue. While no bullet was recovered, Detective LaWayne Smith testified that the shot came from the Charger, although three times he mistakenly said the house had been shot on the south side, conceding at one point that he was “not good with directions.”

Todd Wiles, a civilian crime analyst with the Cleveland Police Department, testified that records from Bradford’s cellphone provider showed Bradford’s phone connecting with a nearby tower at Superior and East 100th Street at 9:08 p.m. on July 3, 2015. The tower was two-tenths of a mile from where E.J. was shot. Separately, a photo from Bradford’s phone showed the phone’s use on the morning July 3, 2015.

Detective Al Johnson, with the Cleveland Police Department’s gang-impact unit, testified as an expert witness on gang activities. He said he monitored social media to establish relationships between gang members and to track their operations and their feuds with rival gangs.

Johnson created a 21-page report that concluded Bradford was affiliated with the Fleet Boys. He based his findings on the May 17 and July 6 shootings and the attempted firebombing, as well as an Instagram post of Maurice and Bradley Bradford with a known member of the Fleet Boys.

On cross-examination, Johnson said that Maurice Bradford had no gang tattoos, only tattoos of the names of his children. Bradford didn’t wear gang clothing. He had never been charged with weapon possession. Johnson had looked at 852 Instagram posts by Bradford. None of them mentioned gang activity or showed Bradford flashing gang signs. Instead, the posts were almost entirely about Bradford’s devotion to his children and another brother, Larry Bradford, who was a paraplegic in a wheelchair.

Asked how the lack of photos influenced his conclusions, Johnson said: “My opinion was based on incidents and the surrounding — and the people that were with the incidents, the people that were involved in the incidents going back and forth.”

Fred Booker, a prosecution witness testifying under the terms of a plea agreement, said he hung out with people in the Fleet gang, including Maurice’s brothers, Bradley Bradford and Lawrence Black, but not Maurice, whose nickname was “Teddy Bear.”

The prosecutor asked: How about Maurice Bradford?

Booker responded: “Yeah, I be around him but I never sincerely, like we never hung out together, like was in the streets together.”

The prosecutor continued: “All right. So he was different than the other ones you hung out with?”

Booker said, “Yeah.”

On September 29, 2016, Judge Villanueva found Maurice Bradford not guilty of all the charges related to the Gang Case. Bradford’s two brothers were each convicted of criminal gang activity and weapons charges. In the Superior Case, Villanueva found Maurice Bradford guilty of two counts of discharging a firearm on or near prohibited premises, four counts of discharging a firearm into a habitation, and having a weapon while under disability.

Prior to sentencing, Bradford’s attorneys filed a motion for acquittal or new trial that claimed that neither Bradford – nor any of the occupants of the Charger – could have fired the shot that struck the north side of the house, and that the prosecutor had misled Villanueva in his characterization of this evidence.

Supporting the motion was a report from Gary Rini, a forensic consultant. Rini wrote: “If a shooter was seated in the back right passenger seat of the vehicle traveling southbound on East 92nd Street, it would have been impossible, based on the evidence, for a shooter to have fired a firearm whose projectile could have produced the bullet defect found in the north side of the residence at 1325 East 92nd Street.”

Smith’s confusing testimony about which side of the house was hit was compounded during closing arguments, the motion said. Judge Villanueva asked the prosecutor: “The only thing that’s reasonable – one reasonable conclusion is that the shot came from the Charger?” The prosecutor said, “Correct.”

The motion said that Bradford had been prosecuted under the theory of mutual culpability, which said that he and the other occupants of the sedan were all equally responsible for the damage and injury caused by the shooting. But that theory only applied if Bradford and others in the Charger initiated the violence. Here, the motion said, all the evidence pointed to the occupants of the sedan as the aggressors.

On November 15, 2016, Judge Villanueva granted the motion for acquittal on five charges, but found Bradford still guilty of unlawful discharge of a weapon and having a weapon while under disability. He sentenced Bradford to four years and nine months in prison.

Bradford appealed his conviction, arguing that his attorneys had provided him with ineffective assistance of counsel. His appeals said his attorney had failed to challenge the state’s firearms evidence and cellphone records or object to part of the state’s closing argument. It said the prosecutor had committed misconduct in characterizing the cellphone records. It also claimed the convictions were not supported by the weight of the evidence.

On April 12, 2018, the Eighth Appellate District for the Ohio Court of Appeals vacated Bradford’s convictions for insufficient evidence. It did not address Bradford’s other appellate claims.

The appellate court said the state’s evidence was speculative. There was testimony that a Charger was involved in the shootout, but no evidence that Bradford was in the Charger. Similarly, the cellphone records inferred that Bradford’s mobile device was in a specific geographical area, but it did not prove Bradford was in possession of the cellphone at the time it pinged the nearby tower.

“Accepting that the Charger and a cellphone were present at Superior and the sole witness saw a single hand shoot a small gun from a back seat car window from a block away at 9:00 p.m. in the midst of the melee described by Friedman, the evidence is insufficient to support the presence of appellant at Superior, which subsumes the theories of complicity, aiding, and abetting,” the court wrote.

Bradford was released from prison that day. Judge Kelly Ann Gallagher of the Cuyahoga Court of Common Pleas dismissed the charges on April 17, 2018.

On April 10, 2020, Bradford filed a motion to be declared a wrongfully imprisoned person under Ohio law, which would allow him to seek state compensation. Judge Maureen Clancy of the Cuyahoga Court of Common Pleas approved the declaration on September 9, 2021.

Bradford then filed a claim with the Ohio Court of Claims, which approved a settlement of $104,589 on October 22, 2021.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 12/10/2021
Last Updated: 12/10/2021
Most Serious Crime:Other Violent Felony
Additional Convictions:Gun Possession or Sale
Reported Crime Date:2015
Sentence:4 years and 9 months
Age at the date of reported crime:28
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No