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John Thompson

Other Ohio exonerations
In August 2000, 30-year-old John Thompson was accused by his seven-year-old son, C.W., of sexually molesting him on three occasions in Cleveland, Ohio. Thompson was arrested on September 11, 2000, and indicted on September 20, 2000, on three counts of rape.

On January 30, 2001, Thompson went to trial in the Cuyahoga Court of Common Pleas. C.W. testified that on three occasions in the summer of 2000—July 14, July 23, and August 5—Thompson pulled down his pants and orally copulated his penis. C.W. testified that he was living with his mother in East Cleveland, but occasionally spent time with Thompson, who lived in Cleveland with Thompson’s mother.

Lauren McAliley, a pediatric nurse practitioner in the Child Protection Program at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital of University Hospitals, testified that C.W.’s descriptions of what had occurred were “compelling.” She said the boy was credible in part because he said he had been whipped with a belt in the past, and she saw scars on the boy’s legs consistent with being whipped. She said the boy’s statements were very detailed, including what room he was in, what clothes he had on, and what he was doing at the time.

Detective James Chappelle testified that he interviewed C.W. “I found him to be engaging,” Chappelle testified. “I have a lot of experience interviewing young children because that’s what I do. I found him to be truthful.”

Thompson’s mother testified that C.W. did not visit Thompson on the days the boy claimed he had been sexually molested.

On February 5, 2001, the jury convicted Thompson of three counts of rape. He was adjudged a sexual predator and sentenced to life in prison.

In October 2002, the Eighth District Court of Appeals of Ohio affirmed the conviction and sentence.

In April 2020, Thompson filed a motion seeking permission to file a delayed motion for a new trial. He said that C.W. had recanted his testimony and attached an affidavit from C.W. In the affidavit, C.W. said that beginning when he was two or three years old, he was sexually molested by a male cousin who was five or six years older. The abuse went on for several years until 2002 when C.W. finally told his aunt—the cousin’s mother—about the abuse. The aunt became extremely upset. Subsequently, the cousin came to C.W. and demanded that he say that someone else had molested him.

The affidavit said, “Being afraid of [my cousin] and the consequences of it all,…I lied and said my father John Thompson had molested [raped] me.”

C.W. said that ultimately he had told his close friends, a professor, his mother, his brother, and his sister that Thompson did not rape him. In 2017, he confided in his graduate school professor because his professor was a mentor. C.W. said he reached out to the Innocence Project, which said it could not help him. He said he talked to the Conviction Integrity Unit at the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s office. He could not get traction with his recantation. He said that at one point, he recorded a video of his recantation and posted it on YouTube.

Ultimately, he connected with attorney Rufus Sims, who filed a motion seeking permission to file the delayed motion for new trial.

In July 2020, the prosecution filed a brief opposing Thompson’s motion. On March 1, 2021, the trial court denied Thompson’s motion without a hearing. Thompson appealed, and the Eighth District Court of Appeals reversed the denial and remanded the case for a hearing.

On January 7, 2022, Thompson filed a motion for a new trial. The prosecution responded by filing a motion to strike that motion. In February, Thompson filed an amended motion for leave to file a delayed motion for a new trial. The state filed a motion in opposition.

On April 26, 2022, the trial court ordered the Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services (CCDCFS) to provide all records related to the case. The records showed there were several investigations of C.W.’s family in the summer of 2000. The record said a neighbor had alleged that C.W.’s mother was selling drugs out of her home and allowing C.W. to engage in inappropriate sexual behavior with another child in the neighborhood.

Notably, the records showed that on August 8, 2000, Thompson had reported a possible sexual assault of C.W. Thompson said that C.W.’s mother related that C.W. had been sexually abused, but she refused to take him to the doctor or to call the police. In a subsequent intake report, C.W.’s mother reported that Thompson had sexually abused C.W. It was this report that led to Thompson’s arrest and charges.

In June 2022, a hearing was held. C.W. testified that he was 29 years old and was a schoolteacher. He said he had not seen Thompson since testifying at the trial in 2000. C.W. said that back in 2000 when he told his aunt—his cousin’s mother—about the abuse, she “blew up” at him. Not long after, “my cousin had approached me and said to say it was someone else,” C.W. said. His cousin then told him to say it was his father.

Asked by defense attorney Sims why he implicated his father, C.W. said, “Because my cousin told me to do it. He said he was going to hurt me, hurt my mom. I was kind of foolish enough to believe it at the time.”

Asked why it took him so long to come forward, C.W. said there were “different reasons through the years. Like nervous, scared, like scared of my dad being angry at me, scared of, you know, me possibly going to jail when I was a kid. Me—just all different sorts of things, you know, fear, you know from like my family would be—just all sorts of things. Anything you can imagine I been through.”

He added, “I mean, it was about time it had to come out. It was either tell the truth or leave this earth. It was at point.”

On June 29, 2002, the trial court granted Thompson’s motion for permission to file a motion for new trial. Thompson then filed a motion for new trial. The prosecution filed a motion in opposition. In August, the hearing on the motion was held. On September 14, 2022, the motion for new trial was denied. The judge said, “[T]he court cannot find that it is reasonably well satisfied that the trial testimony initially given by [C.W.] was false.”

On September 21, 2023, the appeals court reversed. The court vacated Thompson’s convictions and ordered a new trial.

“Comparing C.W.’s recantation to his 2001 trial testimony, we find the recantation is extremely credible,” the appeals court declared.

“C.W.’s thoughtful testimony reflected that his recantation was not based on a change of heart that happened overnight; it was instead the result of significant and prolonged introspection, because C.W. wrestled with his trial testimony for nearly 29 years,” the court. “We find it unreasonable for the trial court to have concluded that the testimony of a seven-year-old child, facing threats from older family members, was more credible than the testimony of a 29-year-old teacher.”

On October 6, 2023, the prosecution dismissed the charges, and Thompson was released. He had spent more than 22 years in prison since his conviction.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 10/10/2023
Last Updated: 10/10/2023
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2000
Age at the date of reported crime:30
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No