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Cuyahoga County prosecutors drop case after court reverses 2001 rape conviction

john thompson
Matthew Richmond
Ideastream Public Media
John Thompson, in orange next to his defense attorney Rufus Sims, appears in court on Oct. 6, 2023. Thompson spent 22 years in prison for rape before his conviction was overturned in September.

Cuyahoga County prosecutors have dismissed rape charges against a man who served 22 years of a life sentence.

A sheriff’s deputy led John Thompson into the 23rd floor courtroom of Judge Daniel Gall early Friday morning. He was in handcuffs, wearing the orange jumpsuit of a prisoner at the Cuyahoga County Corrections Center.

Just two weeks earlier, an appeals court overturned the 2001 guilty verdict against Thompson, who was charged with three counts of rape. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Thompson had not received bail while awaiting a new trial before the prosecutor’s office decided against going ahead with the new trial.

The alleged victim, Thompson’s son, was 7 years old at the time of the original trial and testified against his father. The son, who was in the courtroom Friday but asked to remain anonymous, came forward recently to say a cousin forced him to make the accusation.

The appeals court overturned the conviction based on the withdrawn testimony.

After Assistant Prosecutor Gregory Mussman said his office would be dropping the charges, Thompson’s family broke out in applause. He was brought back to jail before being released.

Thompson’s brother, Melvin King, fought back tears after the hearing, as he waited for his brother.

“I never thought this day would come, and I didn’t want to see my brother die in prison, knowing that he didn’t do anything,” King said.

Years after Thompson was sentenced to prison, his son began trying to undo the verdict. In 2019, after approaching private investigator Brenda Bickerstaff, he signed an affidavit saying his cousin threatened to hurt him and his mother if he did not accuse his father.

Thompson’s lawyers also uncovered evidence they say was withheld by prosecutors and police at the time of the trial. According to Thompson’s appeal for a new trial, his son told police shortly before trial that it was actually the cousin who committed the assault. That information was never brought up at the original trial.

This is the second case in two weeks in which prosecutors have declined to retry after an appeals court overturned a decades-old conviction.

In September, the office dropped charges against Dwayne Brooks, whose 35-year-old murder conviction was overturned earlier this year.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.