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Withheld Evidence - Not Wrongful Imprisonment?

Posted on March 10, 2010 at 10:50 AM


Late last week, yet another man was freed in Cuyahoga County based on exculpatory evidence being withheld from his defense lawyers at trial. Joe D’Ambrosio has spent over 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. There was evidence that the murder charges (carrying the death penalty) belonged to someone else. Apparently, the prosecutor handling his 1989 case knew this. D’Ambrosio took his case to the federal level to find respite and in 2006 was ordered a new trial based upon the missing evidence. [1, 4]


Who was that prosecutor, you might be wondering? Wait for it, I guarantee this’ll be well worth the wait, dear reader.


Flash back to my “Open Discovery Discussion” blog from 2009. I wrote of Mr. Reginald Jells who spent 20-some years in prison on death row for a crime he did not commit, coincidentally (or not) for the same reason: exculpatory evidence was withheld at his trial. [2]


While this might seem illegal (and downright morally repugnant), the amendment to the Ohio Rules of Criminal Procedure, namely Rule 16, is not yet effective in ensuring open discovery to defense lawyers. In a criminal case such as these two men’s, or even my husband’s aggravated murder indictment in 2007, the prosecutor did not have to turn over all the evidence he/she might have found or had. [2]


Prosecutor Carmen Marino handled Mr. Jells' case. Coincidentally, he was also the prosecutor against Mr. D’Ambrosio. Let’s refresh our memories about Prosecutor Marino! This former “star” prosecutor was “criticized for repeated prosecutorial misconduct, including failing to disclose exculpatory evidence” (Gaylord, 2008 ). [2]


Fast forward to 2008…wait a minute; that’s funny! That quote from above is from 2008...the same year Assistant Prosecutor Mark Mahoney, who was the prosecutor that handled my husband's case, was awarded a plague and honored with ceremony for his efforts.  This prestigious award's name?


“Carmen Marino… set the standard for what law enforcement should be,” said Prosecutor Bill Mason. [3]


Let me clarify: Carmen Marino who is infamous for prosecutorial misconduct and withholding evidence now has an award in his name given to my husband’s prosecutor for setting the standard for law enforcement. The press release continues with this:


“Mark Mahoney has been selected by Prosecutor Mason to receive the Carmen Marino Award for the Assistant Prosecuting Attorney who best exemplifies tenacity, integrity, and professionalism in the pursuit of justice.” [3]


It seems I have been thoroughly confused about the definition of integrity and professionalism all these years.


Unfortunately, the ordeal isn’t over for Mr. D’Ambrosio. In fact even after the federal appellate judge ordered him a new trial based on withholding evidence, D’Ambrosio’s new prosecutors kept finding pesky additional evidence that just couldn't seem to be turned over to the defense attorneys. Prosecutor Mason is appealing this latest ruling that gave D'Ambrosio his freedom. [1]   Appeals from the defense side are usually denied when the trial was "fair and impartial" something the withheld evidence denied D'Ambrosio.  And after 20 years, D'Ambrosio has served the minimum sentence that Ohio carries for a murder charge even if he had been guilty, although the withheld evidence seems to support otherwise.  It will be interesting to follow this appeal, but I have to wonder when this poor man will stop being persecuted by the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's office.


For all Prosecutor Mason is like a dog with its bone on this case, he didn't seem inclined to prosecute a friend of his a couple months back.  In 2007, an attorney friend of his was found by the Supreme Court's Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline to have "misappropriated more than $300,000 from his clients and kept it for his own use."  Mason has not felt the need to date to gather a grand jury and indict him.   His comment to the Plain Dealer was that he didn't know about it until asked by the reporter...yet, as the reporter helpfully tells his readers, when the Counsel decides a misconduct has happened it "forwards information to prosecutors and police for criminal investigation."   Mason has prosecuted a dozen or more lawyers for their misconduct in the past.  In 2006 for as little as $5,000 one was sentenced to a year in prison.  [5]


To date, the amendments to Rule 16 of the Ohio Rules of Criminal Procedure have not yet been put into effect.  The latest estimate apparently is July 1, 2010.  [6]






[1] Krouse, P. (2010). Compensating D’Ambrosio for years in prison a question: If he seeks it, it’s not clear that he would get it. The Plain Dealer. Wednesday, March 10, 2010 A1.


[3] Miday, R. (2008). Top Law Enforcement Awarded for Service. Retrieved March 10, 2010 from ressRelease&mcid=335

[4] Editorial (2009). Prosecutor Mason faces a high-stakes call in D’Ambrosio case. The Plain Dealer. Saturday, May 02, 2009.

[5] Puente, M.  (2010).  Mason hasn't prosecuted ex-lawyer who misappropriated $300,000.  The Plain Dealer.  January 27, 2010.  A1

[6] (2010). Discovery rule protects all.  The Plain Dealer.  Opinion.  Saturday, January 9, 2010.  A9.

Categories: Problems in Justice System

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