An Ohio court has declared a man wrongfully imprisoned after he spent 45 years incarcerated for the murder of his wife.
Isaiah Andrews, 84, who was convicted of the crime in 1975, was found not guilty after a new trial in October. The court’s March 10 ruling allows Andrews to seek damages from the state. It was the third-longest wrongful imprisonment in the U.S., according to the National Registry of Exonerations.
“I’ve won the battle for this,” Andrews told reporters after the court’s declaration. He reportedly is sick and has to be pushed around in a wheelchair.
Andrews reported his wife, Regina Andrews, missing from a hotel room they shared in September 1974. The couple had recently gotten married and were staying in the hotel until they found a new home.
Later that day, his wife’s stab wound-riddled body was found wrapped in bed linens by a worker in Forest Hill Park in Cleveland. The linens were reportedly from three different hotels, including where the newly-wed couple was staying. Other linens were traced back to a hotel where Willie Watts stayed the day before and were missing from his room.
Detectives reportedly arrested Watts as he was trying to sell his mother’s valuables to get out of town. However, he provided an alibi for the time Regina was killed. Authorities later arrested Andrews.
Trial transcripts never showed someone else was arrested for the crime. Legal advocates from the Ohio Innocence Project discovered the undisclosed evidence in 2018, Cleveland.com reported. The attorneys then requested DNA testing of evidence, but the linens and other physical evidence were destroyed.
“You would have never known from reading the trial transcripts that the police had arrested someone else for this,” Ohio Innocence Project attorney Brian Howe said.
Prosecutors reportedly weighed Andrews’ previous murder conviction for killing his staff sergeant in the Marines into the decision to prosecute him. No physical evidence linked Andrews to the crime. Instead, detectives reportedly used eyewitness testimony that Andrews was acting strange when his wife disappeared.
Watts was later charged for kidnapping in four separate incidents and was incarcerated for more than 20 years for aggravated arson, The New York Times reported. He died in 2011.
A Cuyahoga County judge reversed Andrew’s conviction in 2020 and ordered the new trial. Andrews sued the state after his acquittal, seeking to be declared wrongfully imprisoned.
He has also filed a civil lawsuit against the city of Cleveland for violating his civil rights by failing to turn over documents that would have helped the defense prove his innocence. Attorneys also allege the officers offered false testimony and fabricated evidence.
“As a result of his wrongful conviction, Andrews spent years locked up behind bars, with the liberties granted to free citizens stripped from him. [They] destroyed Andrews’ life without any warning,” the court document said.
His attorney said he is entitled to $56,752.36 for each year that he was imprisoned, or more than $2.5 million, under Ohio law. The attorneys want Andrews to be reimbursed for lost wages, legal fees and the costs of proving his innocence.
However, the money would not replace everything Andrews lost when detectives “robbed” him of half of his life.
“He lost everybody when he was in prison,” Attorney Sarah Gelsomino said. “So, he didn’t have a family waiting to welcome him back.”
Andrews now relies on the support of other exonerated Ohioans. He was joined in court March 10 by other three men who were also proven to be wrongly imprisoned by the state.
Charles Jackson was exonerated in November 2018 after 27 years in prison. He has taken on the role of Andrews’ caregiver.
Lamont Clark spent 22 years in prison and was freed in 2016, after attorneys discovered the state withheld a medical report showing Clark’s wife told doctors a gun accidentally went off, causing the injuries that led to her death. After evidence proved he was not on the scene, Ruel Sailor’s 2002 murder conviction was overturned in 2018.
The Ohio Innocence Project has freed 34 people since 2003. Fourteen of the cases reportedly originated in Cuyahoga County.