Federal appeals court bars a second murder trial of former Ohio death row inmate
Clients D'Ambrosio, Joe
Joe D'Ambrosio ("D'Ambrosio") was convicted of capital murder, sentenced to death, and ultimately served 20 years in an Ohio prison. Jones represented D'Ambrosio's pro bono for more than seven years, and its efforts resulted in his eventual release from prison and federal orders barring reprosecution and expunging his criminal record.
D'Ambrosio's federal habeas proceedings concluded with findings that important pieces of exculpatory Brady evidence had been wrongfully withheld at his trial, undermining the verdict in the original trial and the death sentence. Following affirmance of the District Court's decision by the Court of Appeals, the State of Ohio elected to retry D'Ambrosio. During the retrial proceedings, the D'Ambrosio team became aware of additional discoverable and potentially exculpatory evidence. Following motions for sanctions and oral argument by Jones Day lawyers, the state court delayed the trial as a sanction against the prosecution, a ruling that had the effect of delaying the trial beyond deadlines imposed by the federal District Court. The State sought relief from the District Court, which D'Ambrosio opposed. Instead, D'Ambrosio argued, he should be released from prison and the reprosecution should be barred. Following a hearing in which the Jones Day team examined witnesses (including state prosecutors) and presented argument, the District Court in April 2009 ordered D'Ambrosio to be released pending re-arraignment and ordered all of his criminal records expunged except the original indictment. The District Court did not, however, bar the State from reprosecuting D'Ambrosio, finding that D'Ambrosio could not prove "substantial prejudice" due to the delay in his retrial proceedings.
Jones Day later discovered that the State's star and sole alleged eyewitness to D'Ambrosio's alleged crime had died. Based on this development, D'Ambrosio successfully moved in the state trial court to exclude Espinoza's prior testimony under the Confrontation Clause because he was unable to cross-examine Espinoza with the withheld exculpatory evidence. Thereafter, D'Ambrosio's lawyers asked the District Court to revisit its earlier order refusing to bar reprosecution based on the changed circumstances. The District Court ultimately ruled in D'Ambrosio's favor, entering an order barring the State of Ohio from reprosecuting D'Ambrosio for any of the crimes for which he had been arrested in 1988. Citing heavily from Jones Day's October 2009 arguments in court, the District Court found that Espinoza's death "prejudices D'Ambrosio's defense in three highly material ways" and that "[h]ad this Court known of that prejudice on April 27, 2009, it would not have permitted reprosecution to proceed."
The State appealed District Court Judge O'Malley's decision barring reprosecution to the Sixth Circuit. John Lewis, Jones Day Cleveland, argued the appeal on November 30, 2010. The Sixth Circuit affirmed Judge O'Malley's ruling on September 14 in a 2-1 reported decision. The Sixth Circuit's decision received front-page coverage the next day in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which noted Jones Day's pro bono efforts and quoted Mr. Lewis, "This should end the state's prosecution of Joe D'Ambrosio for a crime he did not commit."
D'Ambrosio v. Bagley, 619 F. Supp, 2d 428, (N.D. Ohio 2006), aff'd, 527 F.3d 489 (6th Cir. 2008), further proceedings at 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 42838 (N.D. Ohio April 27, 2009) and No. 1: 00CV2521, slip op. (N.D. Ohio November 18, 2009), slip op. (N.D. Ohio March 3, 2010), aff'd, No. 10-3247, ___ F.3d ___ (6th Cir. 2011)