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Joseph Weaver

Joseph Weaver was convicted of first-degree murder in perpetration of a burglary and sentenced to death in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, in 1927. Days before his scheduled execution in 1929, Alex Maynor, the co-defendant who was serving life in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter and who had testified against Weaver, admitted he had lied when he implicated Weaver in the crime. Three days later, the Ohio Supreme Court granted a retrial on the ground that certain hearsay evidence had been erroneously admitted at trial. The court then ordered Weaver’s release after the prosecutor did not object to Weaver’s attorney’s demand of a directed verdict of acquittal.

On Sunday March 13, 1927, the body of Midland Steel Products Company night watchman Jasper Russell was found shortly after 11:00 P.M. on the factory grounds in Cleveland, Ohio. Russell had been killed by a 32-caliber bullet. An examination of the premises indicated that a burglary had been attempted. A window of the company's office had been broken open, the safe had been tampered with, and tools were found on the floor near the safe. Outside the window investigators found a ladder, footprints, bloody thorns, and a piece of a cloth coat caught on the barbed wire fence surrounding the plant.

The investigation led detectives to focus on Midland employee Alex Maynor, a black man, as a primary suspect in the case. Maynor had not shown up for work on the Monday following the crime and his coat, which had a tear that had been freshly mended, matched the piece of cloth found on the wire fence. After being subjected to interrogation which he claimed involved beatings, Maynor, a man of limited mental capacity, confessed to participating in the burglary. Investigators pressed Maynor to explain why a small slip of paper bearing the name and address of Joseph Weaver was found in the pocket of his coat, which resulted in Maynor implicating Weaver. 33-year-old Joseph Weaver had previously worked at the plant along with Maynor. Maynor claimed that Weaver had complained to him about the plant owing Weaver more than $6 and that Weaver had convinced Maynor to accompany him to the plant on Sunday to retrieve the money. Maynor said he was with Weaver as Weaver attempted to open the plant’s safe. When the night watchman, Jasper Russell, had arrived, Maynor said he had run from the scene while Weaver was unable to escape and shot Russell.

When investigators pursued Weaver, Weaver accounted for his time for the whole of Sunday and numerous persons corroborated his alibi. Weaver also accounted for why his name appeared on a piece of paper in Maynor’s coat pocket. With regard to the money owed to him from the Midland plant, Weaver said that on the day he quit work he reported to McGraw, the chief timekeeper, that his pay was short. McGraw told Weaver to write a letter about it, which Weaver had proceeded to do. Weaver then received a letter stating that he was owed $6.72 and could call for the money at any time. McGraw confirmed this story about the money, casting doubt on the monetary motive proposed by the prosecution.

William Warren and Jack Mansfield were the only two parties to raise doubts as to the truth of Weaver's story. The two streetcar conductors said they saw Weaver in the neighborhood of the plant Sunday night. Warren said a large black man boarded his car and got off near the Midland plant at 9:32 P.M. Warren identified Weaver in a lineup that consisted of five black men; Weaver was the only tall one in the group. On cross-examination at trial, it became apparent that Warren had forgotten many details of his car trips on the evening in question other than the trip allegedly involving Weaver. Mansfield, the other conductor, reported that his car picked up two black men 200 feet from the plant at exactly 10:30 P.M. and carried them back to the Public Square, where Warren said Weaver first got on the car. Mansfield identified Weaver and Maynor as these two black men. On cross-examination, Mansfield admitted that he had written a letter on March 25 inquiring whether he was entitled to part of a $1,000 award offered by the president of the Midland Steel Company in exchange for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Russell's murderer and that he had hopes of obtaining a job at the Midland plant. Additional doubt was cast on this witness because Russell was demonstrably alive at 10:30 P.M., the time at which Mansfield declared with certainty that Weaver and Maynor boarded his car after leaving the area of the plant.

Weaver and Maynor were jointly indicted for the murder, and Prosecuting Attorney Edward C. Stanton elected to try Weaver first. The Cuyahoga Country Criminal Court appointed William f. Marstellar and Nathan E. Cook to represent Weaver, and Judge Irving Carpenter presided over the April 11, 1927 trial. Judge Carpenter allowed the prosecution to introduce hearsay evidence involving a comment made by a five-year-old girl about the alleged discovery of a revolver in connection to Weaver. An all-white jury convicted Weaver and sentenced him to death by electrocution. Weaver remained at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio, with an execution date set for January 19, 1929.

Maynor, meanwhile, had pleaded guilty to a charge of manslaughter and received a life sentence. In January of 1929 Maynor voluntarily confessed to a warden at the penitentiary that Weaver had nothing to do with the Midland Steel Products Company robbery. Maynor told the warden, Judge Carpenter, and the Ohio Board of Clemency that he had lied in his confession after being beaten by police and that Weaver was not in fact at the Midland plant the night of the murder. Maynor also denied his own involvement in the crime. As a result, a stay of execution was granted to Weaver pending further action in the courts.

On February 20, 1929, the Supreme Court of Ohio reversed the judgment of conviction and granted a retrial on the grounds that hearsay evidence concerning the five-year old constituted reversible error.

At the second trial in Cleveland, Ohio, on April 2, 1929, the defense moved for a directed verdict of acquittal. The prosecution did not oppose the motion, and Judge William White ordered Weaver's release. In 1933, Ohio's state legislature awarded Weaver $12,000 “for the damages he suffered by reason of the erroneous conviction.”

— Researched by Marni Barta
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Reported Crime Date:1927
Age at the date of crime:33
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation