Prosecutors won't retry man who served 35 years for a Cleveland murder he says he didn't commit
In a departure from recent decisions to retry overturned convictions, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s office on Tuesday dropped the charges against a 57-year-old man who has maintained for more than three decades that he was wrongly convicted in 1988 of killing a man in Luke Easter Park on Cleveland's East Side.
Dwayne Brooks, who now lives in New York but has family in the Cleveland area, was found guilty of the murder of Clinton Arnold.
Brooks successfully appealed that conviction after the Cleveland Division of Police responded to a public records request in 2021. Among the records were six pieces of evidence, including statements from two eyewitnesses, that had not been turned over to Brooks’ defense attorneys or seen by a jury. All six either directly supported Brooks’ innocence or threw the credibility of the state’s key witness into doubt.
That was enough for Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Judge William McGinty to reverse the conviction and grant Brooks bail.
The 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision Brady v. Maryland requires prosecutors to turn over any evidence favorable to a defendant before trial. In 1972, in Giglio v. United States, the court ruled that prosecutors also have to turn over any evidence that raises questions about the credibility of a witness at trial.
“It hurt,” said Brooks. "It really hurt when I got the evidence in my hand that they knew from the very beginning that I didn't do it."
On Wednesday, Brooks’ current attorney, Kim Kendall Corral arrived at a relative’s home in Shaker Heights in a pink stretch limousine with a bottle of sparkling apple cider and good news. The county prosecutors weren't going to retry him.
“We think that after this fight, you know, quietly filing a motion to dismiss the case is not enough,” Corral said. “We wanted to celebrate.”
The decision not to retry him marks a change in the way the county has handled other cases that were overturned.
It really hurt when I got the evidence in my hand that they knew from the very beginning that I didn't do it.Dwayne Brooks
In the last two years, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley has chosen to take three high-profile cases to trial after a decades-old conviction was overturned.
In all three of those recent cases — Isaiah Andrews, Michael Sutton and Kenny Phillips who were convicted of attempted murder in 2007, and Michael Buehner whose 2002 murder conviction was overturned in 2021 — juries came back with not guilty verdicts the second time around.
The 2021 retrial of Andrews was held after Andrews spent 45 years in prison. A jury found Andrews not guilty. He died the next year at age 83.
In its Tuesday court filing, Assistant Prosecutor Carl Mazzone said the office spent four weeks reviewing the case for a possible retrial. Mazzone wrote the state decided not to move ahead with a retrial after reviewing the new evidence, finding that several witnesses from the original trial died and speaking to living victims, who declined to participate in a new trial or speak with prosecutors.
Corral criticized the prosecutor’s office for taking five months from the time a judge in Cuyahoga County first overturned the conviction to acknowledge it could not bring the case to trial.
“They have known since April, while keeping him under house arrest, that they don't have one iota of evidence supporting their theory of this case,” Corral said. “And yet it took until [Tuesday] before he could finally be free.”
The prosecutor’s office noted in its motion to dismiss the case that “the court further stated that it did not find that the prosecution acted in bad faith” in failing to turn over evidence to the defense.
Brooks is not persuaded by that finding.
“This practice of withholding evidence that's favorable to the defendant, they have it down to a science,” Brooks said. “It's easy for them. Listen, when I say easy, I mean the true definition of the word — it's easy for them. It's nothing.”
Before being sent to prison, Brooks was splitting his time between Cleveland and Long Island, New York. He was an up-and-coming boxer and musician. His son, Dwayne Brooks, Jr., was born a few months after his father was sent to prison.
Brooks said he initially thought he’d only be in prison for a year before his conviction was overturned and never accepted that he belonged in prison.
“They talk to you like you’re an animal. They treat you like you're an animal, and they feed you like, you know,” Brooks said. “The people that's in there turn into animals... in their minds. I saw that early on, and I made it my business to not get institutionalized, not claim that this is my cell or this is my bunk or any of that. I wasn't supposed to be there.”
The judge in Brooks’ case still has to rule on the prosecutor’s motion to dismiss before the case is closed. After that, Corral said they are considering all their options for compensation for Brooks’ time in prison.
“When we're criminalizing people that look like Dwayne Brooks, we treat wrongdoing like it must be punished to the fullest extent,” Corral said. “But when we're talking about people who've enshrined themselves in privilege and power, we act like, ‘Well, you know, how could we know that we were sitting on all of these documents that we've had in our files for 35 years?’ They did know and they continued to deny his claims.”