On October 29, 1981, 12-year-old Tina Marie Harmon went missing from the small rural Ohio town of Creston. Harmon had been on her way home from buying ice cream at the local grocery store when she disappeared. Five days later, her body was found in a neighboring county. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled.
Three months later, two white men, Ernest Holbrook Jr., age 19, and Herman Ray Rucker, age 26, were charged in Tina Harmon’s rape and murder. There was no physical evidence linking either man to the crime, and both men passed lie detector tests. Holbrook was at his sister’s wedding the weekend of the abduction, but police were convinced that Holbrook and Rucker were the perpetrators based on the testimony of two witnesses. Holbrook’s cousin, Curtis Maynard, and his acquaintance, Susan Sigler, claimed that after a night of drinking at Sigler’s house, Rucker had confessed to them that he and Holbrook had killed a little girl who had resisted their sexual advances.
Rucker was convicted and sentenced to life in prison on June 9, 1982. Two months later, Holbrook was convicted and given a life sentence as well. Holbrook wept as he was led away from his wife and one-month-old son.
Soon after Holbrook and Rucker were convicted, the reliability of one of the two witnesses against them, Susan Sigler, was called into question when she was convicted of filing a false rape claim. Sigler was also discovered to have lied on her marriage license, claiming she had had one prior husband, who was deceased, when she actually had four living ex-husbands.
The other witness against Holbrook and Rucker, Curtis Maynard, who was mentally impaired, recanted his testimony, claiming he had been pressured by Stark County detectives who had used Maynard’s probation for past felony convictions as leverage. Following Maynard’s recantation, Rucker was granted a new trial. He was acquitted by a jury on June 16, 1983. Holbrook sought a new trial but his requests were repeatedly denied, and he remained in prison.
However, in April 1984, Robert A. Buell, a former employee of the City of Akron planning department, was convicted of the abduction and killing of 11-year-old Krista Lea Harrison. This crime closely resembled the killing of Tina Harmon and occurred in a neighboring town. Identical rust-colored carpet fibers of an uncommon type were found on the bodies of both girls. The manufacturer of the carpet confirmed that, in Ohio, they had only sold enough of that particular carpet for a few homes. Identical carpet was found in Robert Buell’s van.
Holbrook’s conviction was set aside and the charges against him were dismissed on May 4, 1984. He was released after spending over two years in prison. Curtis Maynard was convicted of perjury for his false testimony in Rucker’s trial and spent thirteen months in prison.
- Meghan Barrett Cousino
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.