As news of the reversal circulated through the halls of Mansfield Correctional Institution, Joaquin Hicks was greeted with high-fives and back-slaps from other inmates, according to his aunt, Denise Taylor. They assumed his freedom would arrive within days.
But Hicks is still waiting, and he could be waiting quite a while longer.
Though the Eighth District Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Hicks, he remains jailed on a $1 million bond. A spokesman for the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement late last week that it will ask the appeals court to reconsider its decision this week. If that doesn’t happen, the prosecutor will turn to the state Supreme Court. And if that doesn’t work, they will put Hicks on trial again.
In March 2010, Hicks was found guilty of masterminding the downtown shootings at Perk Plaza that left one man dead and another critically wounded. Hicks was given a life sentence without parole, and four other men pleaded guilty for their roles in the shootings.
But Hicks claimed he didn’t know any of the other men and had nothing to do with the crime — and no physical evidence was ever introduced to suggest otherwise.
At least one other defendant, Cornelius King, admitted in court that he had agreed with prosecutors to have the death penalty taken off the table in his own case in exchange for testimony against Hicks.
In essence, the appeals court ruled, the case boiled down to the credibility of each side’s witnesses, and Hicks had good ones: 10 family members who agreed that he was celebrating with family at the home of his Aunt Denise the entire weekend of the shootings. A bartender who knew the alleged shooter also said Hicks wasn’t the guy.
Descriptions of the gunman from the state’s witnesses, meanwhile, varied widely — and multiple state witnesses admitted to being high, drunk, or both at the time of the incident.
In the appeals court’s ruling, it agreed with Hicks that the prosecution unfairly insinuated that Hicks’ defense team had coached witnesses prior to testifying. The court added that there was no evidence such coaching ever took place.
The only witness to ID Hicks prior to trial was Plain Dealer reporter Stan Donaldson, who had accompanied his sister at the downtown bar where the episode began. In a live lineup held later, even Donaldson fingered another suspect rather than Hicks. (Donaldson declined to be interviewed about the incident.)
“It’s like Joaquin says: They don’t have a case, but he’s still locked up,” says Denise Taylor, the point person in the effort to have her nephew freed. “I guess we were both a little too hopeful.”