Judge tosses murder charges against man imprisoned for 35 years

CLEVELAND — A judge on Friday dismissed murder charges against a New York man who was imprisoned for 35 years for a Cleveland killing that he always maintained he didn’t commit.

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge William McGinty said that Dwayne Brooks’ lengthy prison stint was evidence that the criminal justice system isn’t perfect.

“The fact that any person is held in jail for one day, let alone 12,729 days, shocks the conscience of reasonable men and women,” McGinty said.

Brooks, who showed little emotion in previous court hearings, put his head down and fought back tears as McGinty delivered his ruling.

McGinty dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning that Cuyahoga County prosecutors will be forever barred from trying Brooks again. Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Carl Mazzone, who filed a motion to dismiss the case on Tuesday, said that the office does not plan to prosecute Brooks again but objected to McGinty’s decision to bar it from retrying the case.

McGinty called Brooks to the bench at the end of the hearing. McGinty handed Brooks the order dismissing the case and told him that he could go to the clerk of court’s office and file the order himself.

Brooks stood before the judge and looked down at the order in his hand for several seconds as more than two dozen of his family members and supporters applauded. Brooks shook McGinty’s hand and thanked him.

Brooks held up the order in an interview after the hearing.

“The world can see that I didn’t do it,” he said.

The move sets Brooks on the path to file a lawsuit to claim money from the state for the time he spent locked in prison for the slaying of Clinton Arnold.

Brooks was a 22-year-old aspiring boxer and musical artist when he and two other people were accused of fatally shooting Arnold in Luke Easter Park in August of 1987. Prosecutors at trial painted the shooting, which also wounded two other people, as a dispute between two rival drug dealers over territory.

No physical evidence tied him to the shooting. Prosecutors instead relied largely on testimony from two people, including one who took a plea deal with prosecutors that allowed him to avoid the potential death penalty. They said Brooks was involved in the shooting.

He was spared the death penalty and instead sentenced to life in prison with no chance at parole until he spent 20 years behind bars.

His conviction was overturned earlier this year, nearly three years after his family discovered that police and prosecutors did not tell Brooks’ defense attorneys before his 1988 trial that two witnesses to the shooting did not pick Brooks’ photograph out of a police line-up.

Then-Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor John Ricotta and Brooks’ defense attorney, Gordon Friedman, testified at a November hearing that the prosecutor’s office policy at the time was not to turn over physical documents to defense attorneys. Instead, both men said prosecutors would read portions of the documents to the attorneys.

Ricotta said that the office was required to turn over evidence that was helpful to defendants, but he could not remember whether he provided the documents. Friedman said he didn’t receive them because he would have asked witnesses about the documents if he had seen them.