Cleveland man sues city, Cuyahoga County for 23 years he spent in prison for dismissed murder conviction

October 11, 2018

Cleveland man sues city, Cuyahoga County for 23 years he spent in prison for dismissed murder conviction

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- A Cleveland man who spent nearly 23 years in prison for a murder conviction that was overturned and dismissed last year says in a lawsuit that Cleveland police and Cuyahoga County forensic investigators fabricated evidence to make him look like the killer.

Evin King claims in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday that Cleveland detectives and then-Coroner’s Office employees Robert Challener and Kay May worked together to undermine the physical evidence they found while investigating the death of Crystal Hudson in June 1994.

None of the physical evidence linked King to Hudson’s death, and there were also signs that Hudson was raped during the same attack that killed her, the lawsuit states.

However, Challener and May fabricated evidence and drew conclusions that were “totally unsupported by science and the physical evidence” that sperm cells recovered from Hudson’s body were likely from days before her death and the result of consensual sex, the suit states.

King was imprisoned from June 1994 until his release in April 2017 and lost a large chunk of his life as the result of misconduct by investigators, the lawsuit states.

“Instead of doing the work to find the real rapist/murderer, Defendants took the easier path and pinned the crimes on Plaintiff, whose only offense was simply being present when the body was found,” the lawsuit says.

King’s lawsuit says police also fabricated statements regarding the location of his leather jacket, to make it appear as if King lied about his knowledge of where Hudson’s body was found.

Police also manipulated the statements of Hudson’s children and questioned them in a way so they could implicate King, and withheld exculpatory evidence, or evidence that is favorable to a defendant, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit names a series of police officers who worked on the case as defendants, including Robert Matuszny, Gregoy Kunz, Michael O’Malley, Thomas Miller, Timothy Zbikowski and Dennis Gunsch. Challener, who died in 2013, and May, as well as the city and county and then-Coroner Elizabeth Balraj are also named as defendants.

The lawsuit says the defendants violated King’s due process rights and maliciously prosecuted him and claim the city’s longstanding problems and unconstitutional prison led to the wrongful convictions for many people who spent years in prison.

King, 61, is seeking an unspecified amount in damages.

A city spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. County spokeswoman Mary Louise Madigan said attorneys have not received the lawsuit, but would review and answer it when they do.

King was at Hudson’s apartment on the day police found Hudson’s body in her bedroom closet. A jury found him guilty of murdering Hudson in 1995 and he was sentenced to life with parole eligibility after 15 years.

Prosecutors at trial theorized that Hudson cheated on King and that King got jealous and killed her, but they had no physical evidence linking him to the crime. While the semen from her body did not match King’s DNA, the skin cells found under her fingernails could not be tested with technology available at trial.

In 2009, the Ohio Innocence Project tested the skin cells using new DNA technology and found that the skin cells and the semen came from the same person.

Following years of legal wrangling, Common Pleas Judge Brian Corrigan overturned King’s murder conviction on April 19, 2017, after the Prosecutor’s Office asked the judge to do so. Corrigan released King on a personal bond the same day.

Prosecutors asked Corrigan in September 2017 to dismiss the case without prejudice, meaning they can file charges again in new evidence arises. Corrigan did so the following month.

Assistant County Prosecutor Kristen Sobieski wrote in the 2017 motion seeking dismissal that prosecutors asked the medical examiner to perform forensic DNA testing, which had not yet been completed. She also said she asked the Bureau of Criminal Investigation to perform some DNA testing on evidence taken from Hudson’s body, but that testing had also not yet commenced.

Rather than continuously ask to postpone a trial, prosecutors wrote that dismissing the case was the best way to proceed, Sobieski wrote.

The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Dan Polster.

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