Isaiah (seated) is pictured with fellow exonerees Ru-El Sailor, Charles Jackson, and Laurise Glover, who served 15, 27.5, and 20 years respectively, for crimes they did not commit.
Isaiah Andrews, an 83-year-old Cleveland man who maintained his innocence for 45 years in prison for the 1974 murder of his wife, was found not guilty this week in a new trial that was ordered after his lawyers with the Ohio Innocence Project found police files pointing to another suspect that were never turned over to Andrews' original trial team.
The jury spent just over an hour deliberating before returning with a unanimous verdict of not guilty.
Because just about everyone involved in the original proceedings have passed away, the trial this week mainly featured the reading of transcripts from 1974.
“For over four decades Isaiah Andrews has fought for justice for his wife and for his freedom,” Marcus Sidoti, one of the attorneys, said in a statement. “Today the jury got it right. He is finally vindicated. Isaiah will never get these decades of his life back, but he can now live the remainder of his life a free man.”
Andrews had faced a long path to get to this day.
His lawyers in 2018 sought a court order to test samples collected from the body of Regina Andrews — fingernail scrapings and vaginal swabs — with DNA technology not available at the time of the trial. Andrews was found near Forest Hill Park wrapped in bedsheets, brutally stabbed, with her nightgown pushed up around her waist, indicating a sexual assault. Isiah Andrews had told police he'd been out all day on Sept. 18, 1974, running errands and selling clothes and returned to the hotel room just east of downotnw he shared with his wife to find her missing.
In communication with the Cuyahoga County Coroner's Office in the aftermath, the Ohio Innocence Project discovered the office's file on the case included Cleveland police reports and narratives pointing toward a separate suspect named Willie Watts, who had been in the area where Andrews' body was found wrapped in hotel bed linens in Forest Hills Park and who had been in Howard Johnson hotel the night before in a room that was missing its linens the next day. When police investigated him initially at the time, he had an alibi for when police believed the murder happened. But when the coroner adjusted the estimated time of death, they failed to circle back to Watts.
This was never disclosed to Andrews' lawyers at the time, which is why an appelate court ordered a new trial.
Watts, Andrews' lawyers documented in filings, went on to accumulate a criminal record littered with violence against women.
No physical evidence tied Andrews to the crime and he was convicted on the basis of shaky eyewitness testimony from a maid and short-term tenant of the Colonial House Motel on Euclid Ave. near East 30th, where the Andrews had been staying after getting married three weeks earlier. He told police he had been out all day on Sept. 18, 1974.
In the courtroom yesterday, Andrews told reporters “I’ve become free.”
“This was the right result today, but I don’t know if he’ll ever get actual justice,” Brian Howe of the Ohio Innocence Project told Cleveland.com
. “He should have never been convicted in the first place and he certainly never should have been retried.”
Andrews posed for pictures with fellow exonerees Ru-El Sailor, Charles Jackson and Laurise Glover, who served 15, 27.5, and 20 years respectively, in prison after being wrongfully convicted. All together, the four have spent more than a century behind bars while being innocent.