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Gary L. Beeman was sentenced to death in 1976 for a murder in the course of a robbery in Ashtabula County, Ohio, and exonerated in 1979 when evidence came to light that the principal witness against him had committed the crime.
The victim, 52-year-old Robert Perrin, was found dead in his home in the town of Geneva, Ohio, on November 16, 1975. Beeman was arrested two months later after he was implicated in the crime by a prison escapee named Clair Liuzzo.
Beeman and Liuzzo, ages 22 and 24 respectively, had been fellow prisoners at Ohio’s Mansfield State Reformatory. Liuzzo had been in prison for a narcotics offense, but escaped a month before the Perrin murder. Beeman had been paroled the previous June after serving three years for an armed robbery.
A few days after the murder, Liuzzo surrendered on the escape charge. Returned to the Mansfield Reformatory, he soon contacted the authorities, saying he had information about the Perrin crime. In police interviews in January 1976, he accused Beeman of the murder. He became the star witness for the prosecution at Beeman’s trial six months later.
Although Liuzzo would not be prosecuted for the escape, officials denied that he had been promised anything in exchange for his testimony. Aside from his testimony, the evidence against Beeman was circumstantial: two weeks before the crime, he had purchased two .22 -caliber pistols at a sporting goods store. Perrin had been killed with a small-caliber weapon, which was not recovered. After the crime, two rings owned by Perrin had been pawned by a man who the pawn shop owner identified as Beeman.
Beeman took the stand and accused Liuzzo of committing the murder. According to Beeman, Liuzzo contacted him shortly after escaping from prison in October 1975 and, in the hope of obtaining money, they plotted to obtain it from Perrin, who was gay. The night of November 15, 1975, Beeman went with Perrin to his home in Geneva, but left when Perrin refused to give him money. Beeman then joined Liuzzo, who became enraged when he learned that Beeman had gotten nothing from Perrin. According to this scenario, Liuzzo then went to Perrin’s house alone and—without Beeman’s knowledge of his intent—committed the murder.
At the trial, Beeman’s lawyer, Thomas Shaughnessy, attempted to call Robert Westfall, who would have testified that Liuzzo had admitted committing the crime and said he was blaming it on Beeman. However, Judge Roland Poitius would not allow the jury to hear Westfall’s testimony. Nor would he allow Shaughnessy to recall Liuzzo to the stand for further cross examination.
The jury believed the prosecution’s case, finding Beeman guilty, and on July 27, 1976, Poitius sentenced Beeman to death in the Ohio electric chair.
In 1978, however, the Ohio Court of Appeals reversed the conviction and remanded the case for a new trial, holding that Poitius had unfairly restricted the cross examination of Liuzzo.
With a standby attorney appointed to assist him, Beeman represented himself at his retrial, which opened in September 1979 before Judge Robert L. Ford and a jury. The prosecution’s case remained the same, but the defense case was substantially stronger.
Five former Ashtabula County Jail prisoners testified that they had heard Liuzzo say that he, not Beeman, had committed the murder. On October 4, 1979, the jury acquitted Beeman and he was released.
- Michael Radelet
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.