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Richard Horton

Other Franklin County, Ohio exonerations
At about 7:30 a.m. on October 9, 2004, 48-year-old Richard McClanahan and his 47-year-old girlfriend, Rhonda Curry, were asleep in their home at 927 Loew Street in Columbus, Ohio, when someone knocked on the door. A voice called out “Slim,” which was McClanahan’s nickname. He thought his nephew had arrived.

But as he cracked open the door, a gunman forced his way inside, struck McClanahan on the head with the pistol, and demanded money. When McClanahan said he had no money, the man said he knew McClanahan had gotten paid the day before and shot McClanahan in the leg.

He threatened to kill Curry, who was lying on a fold-out couch, if she didn’t stop looking at him. The robber started to ransack the house and tried to fold up the couch with Curry still in it. McClanahan managed to extract $20 bills from his shoe and hand it over. “You got more than this—all that money you had yesterday!” the gunman declared.

The gunman eventually gave up looking for money and left.

Curry’s sister, who had been in a rear bedroom listening, emerged, and the two women drove McClanahan to the hospital. Police were called and were able to find latent fingerprints on the fold-out couch. A nine-millimeter spent shell casing was also recovered.

At the hospital, Curry told Columbus police detective Brenda Walker that she recognized the gunman, but could not remember from where. She said the man was Black, 25 to 30 years old, about 6 feet 2 inches to 6 feet 3 inches tall with a light skin color. She said the man wore a gray hooded sweatshirt with the hood cinched up so that she could only see his eyes and nose.

Detective Walker, in her typewritten report, said that she spoke to McClanahan on October 13, four days after the robbery. She said McClanahan identified the robber as “Richard.” Walker reported that he said his niece had sold “Richard” a car five or six years earlier. According to McClanahan, he had cashed his check the day before the robbery and went to a convenience store to buy some beer. He claimed that he ran into “Richard” when he was outside at a pay phone. McClanahan said he had to take out his folded bills to get change, and when “Richard” saw it, asked to borrow $20. McClanahan said he refused, and “Richard” then asked to use the pay phone first. McClanahan said he refused that request as well. McClanahan said he dialed the number, but got a busy signal, so he got in his truck and left. McClanahan said he recognized the voice of the attacker as the same voice of the man he encountered at the pay phone.

Detective Walker reported that on October 28, 2004, she spoke by telephone with McClanahan and he gave her the name of Richard Horton. On December 4, 2004, Walker located a photograph of 28-year-old Horton, who had a prior drug conviction, and created a photographic lineup. McClanahan and Curry both identified Horton as the gunman. Horton’s fingerprints were compared to the fingerprints found on the fold-out couch, and he was excluded as the source.

On December 15, 2004, a warrant for Horton’s arrest was issued. On December 27, 2004, Horton turned himself in to police. He was charged with two counts of aggravated robbery, felonious assault, aggravated burglary and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

In February 2006, Horton went to trial in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. The prosecution’s case was based on testimony from Detective Walker as well as from McClanahan and Curry, both of whom identified Horton as the gunman.

Walker was asked why more than two months elapsed from the time of the crime to the issuance of the arrest warrant. “Well, number one, we didn’t have the defendant’s last name,” Walker said. “All we had was Richard. So the victim was in and out of the hospital. He had several different surgeries because of the gunshot.”

Walker said that in October McClanahan had initially given “just Richard. He called me back and gave me Richard Horton.”

She said her first interview with McClanahan was four days after the shooting. At that time, she said McClanahan first reported the name of Richard. Walker said that McClanahan wanted to check with his niece, who had sold a car to “Richard” years earlier.

Walker said that McClanahan described the gunman as Black, light-skinned, six feet tall with bushy eyebrows, and “short nappy hair.”

Horton testified and denied involvement in the crime. He denied being the person that McClanahan claimed to have seen the night before the robbery. He said he had a job at Popeye’s Chicken, had more than $1,400 in his bank account, and had no reason to rob anyone or ask anyone for money. He also said he had a cell phone and had no reason to use a pay phone.

Horton’s girlfriend, Jennette Harmon, testified that while she could not remember the exact morning of the robbery, she remembered the general time period. She said that she and Horton were together every Saturday morning. She said she had never seen Horton use drugs or possess a gun.

On February 10, 2006, the jury convicted Horton of two counts of aggravated robbery, felonious assault, aggravated burglary, and being a felon in possession of a weapon. At his sentencing hearing, Horton declared, “And, your honor, I’d just like for you to look in your heart and use your wisdom, sir….I don’t know how long you have been doing this…I am willing to believe you know an innocent man when you see one. And in my opinion, I always believed that the justice system would do its job, and that the truth would come out. And I just look for you to consider—would like for you to consider those things, your honor.” Horton offered to take a polygraph examination.

The judge said he had no authority to allow for a polygraph examination. He then sentenced Horton to 23 years in prison.

In 2007, while his direct appeal was pending, Horton’s appellate lawyer filed a petition for post-conviction relief arguing that his trial lawyer had provided an inadequate legal defense by not calling an expert on eyewitness identification. A hearing was held in 2008 during which Dr. John Tilley, a clinical and forensic psychologist testified and expressed concerns about the identifications by McClanahan and Curry. He specifically described “confidence inflation,” where witnesses become more confident in memory as time passes and the distance from the incident increases.

In 2010, the petition was denied. The judge ruled an expert would not have mattered because the victims claimed to know Horton and the testimony was “remarkably consistent.”

In 2017, the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP), which was representing Horton, obtained 61 pages of police reports from the Columbus police department. These pages included hand-written notes by Detective Walker which had not been disclosed to the defense at the time of Horton’s trial.

These notes showed that McClanahan initially said the gunman was 5 feet 9 inches to 6 feet tall. This was as much as four inches shorter than Horton, who was 6 feet 1 inch tall. Walker, in typing up the report that was disclosed, reported McClanahan’s description as 6 feet tall.

The handwritten notes also indicated that in an interview McClanahan had said, “Richard Diggs—Adidas boy. Reynolds Ave.” The OIP determined that Richard Diggs had a lengthy and violent criminal history that was “convoluted” because he and his brother, Riccardo, appeared to have used each other as aliases. Horton and the Diggs brothers all had similar features—all were light-skinned Black men, between 27-28 at the time of the crime, and all had short-cropped hair. Richard Diggs told the OIP that he was in jail at the time of the robbery.

In April 2018, OIP attorneys Brian Howe and Mark Godsey filed a motion for DNA testing to be conducted on the shell casing. In 2019, tests identified a DNA profile that excluded Horton.

Ultimately, OIP filed a motion for a new trial. The motion said that the prosecution had failed to disclose Walker’s notes and that she had testified falsely at the trial. The motion also cited the DNA test results.

On January 12, 2022, Court of Common Pleas Judge Colleen O’Donnell granted the motion. She vacated Horton’s convictions based on the DNA test results. The judge noted that the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation had devised a method to conduct the testing as part of its work on the Horton case.

At the same time, Judge O’Donnell declined to rule that that the failure to disclose Detective Walker’s notes prejudiced Horton's case. The judge said that it was not clear whether Horton’s defense attorney became aware at the time of the trial of the existence of Richard Diggs or the height range description that described the gunman as much shorter than Horton. The judge also rejected the claim that Walker had testified falsely, noting that “perjury, without proof of knowledge on the part of the prosecution, does not implicate constitutional rights.”

In the end, Judge O’Donnell said that the handwritten notes were “not material and exculpatory evidence.”

On January 19, 2022, Horton was released on bond pending a possible retrial. His release came more than 17 years after he was arrested. “Mr. Horton has been fighting this for the last 17 years,” Howe said in an interview. “He has never wavered in his claim of innocence. He’s looking forward to getting back to his family and ultimately being vindicated at trial.”

There would be no trial.

By that time, McClanahan had died. The prosecution filed a motion to allow the introduction of McClanahan’s testimony at the 2006 trial in a retrial of the case. In April 2023, Judge O’Connell denied that motion.

On May 25, 2023, the prosecution dismissed the case.

On November 20, 2023, Horton filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the city of Columbus, seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 7/17/2023
Last Updated: 12/20/2023
Most Serious Crime:Robbery
Additional Convictions:Assault, Burglary/Unlawful Entry, Weapon Possession or Sale
Reported Crime Date:2004
Sentence:23 years
Age at the date of reported crime:28
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes