Daniel McKinney

A Case of Actual Innocence: Seeking Redress from the Injustice of the Wrongful Conviction of Chaz Minor, by Yusuf Bilaal MCKINNEY

PART THREE

The Prejudicial Effect of Chaz Minor’s Joint Trial (continued)

So , how was Chaz Minor prejudiced by being jointly tried with co-defendant Larry Lewis? Although critical exculpatory evidence demnstrating the actual innocence of Chaz Minor has materialized since Minor’s jury trial, even an examination of the finding of the court of appeals’ revview of Minor’s jury trial provides insight of the prejudice of the joint trial. Specifically, in the court of appeals’ opinion in State v. Lewis, Ohio Court of Appeals’ Justice Penelope Cunningham wrote:

“Lewis and (Chaz) Minor were tried together. At trial, Jamita Weaver and Geronimo Johnson identified Lewis as one of the perpetrators. Lewis’s cellmate also testified that Lewis had admitted killing Berry.

***

“Berry was known to sell high-quality marijuana in downtown Cincinnati. In March and April 2005, he began to sell it in the Fay Apartments… neighborhood of Cincinnati. A number ooof Fay Apartments denziens also sold marijuana there, frequently from ‘candy stores,’ apartments from which they sold candy, snacks, cigarettes, and marijuana. Fay Apartments marijuana sellers were concerned about Berry ‘taking [their] licks,’ or selling drugs in their territory.

“Johnson lived in the Fay Apartments with his sister, Montoya. He ran a candy store from his sister’s apartment. Lewis purchased cigars from their store. On the day before Berry died, and following an argument with Johnson’s sister’s ex-boyfriend, Hakeem, Lewis drew his .45-caliber handgun and engaged in a roving gun battle with Hakeem at the Fay Apartments. Lewis fired into the apartment occupied by Montoya.

“At trial, Johnson testified that n the night of the shooting, from the vantage point of his girlfriend’s apartment window, he had observed Berry, Lewis, and a third man arguing. Lewis chided Berry, ‘You can’t be up here.’ Berry explained that he was trying to leave. Johnson then saw Lewis approach Berry and draw a handgun from his clothing. As Johnson left the window to ensure that his girlfriend and her child were safe, he heard shots from two different guns. The first shots were very loud. After the shooting stopped, Johnson wwatched as Lewis and his companion looked over Berry’s body ‘to see if the job was finished.’ Johnson did not report any of his observvations to the public until two weeks later.” (See: State v. Lewis, 2007-Ohio-1485, at [*P1]-[*P5].

Based on the foregoing, the substantial prejudice Chaz Minor was subjected to in being jointly tried with Lewis is only too obvious. Firstly, at all times material to the jury trial the evidence exclusively points directly towards Larry Lewis’ involvement in the shooting of Berry. The State’s witnesses testified that they “identified Lewis as one f the perpetrators.” Furthermore, “Lewis’ cellmate also testified that Lewis had admitted killing Berry.” Consequently,
not a single, solitary credible witness ever definitively identified Chaz Minor as being present at the scene of the shooting of Kevin Berry. However, given the gravity of such courtroom witness identification of Lewis alone, where the joint trial placed Chaz Minor seated at the defense table next to Lewis led the jurors to presume Chaz Minor guilty by mere courtroom association.

Secondly, where Lewis was advised by his trial attorney not to incriminate himself, Lewis exercised his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, which thereby resulted in Lewis not testifying of Chaz Minor’s innocence during the joint trial.

Why?

Generally, in cases where the identity of the perpetrator is unknown, the initial stages of the police investigation of a homicide involves making a determination of the “why” relevant to the fatality. Drawing from legal terms, investigators seek to ascertain what is referred to as the mens rea, or the criminal intent, of the perpetrator. The obvious logic of this investigation technique is that the “why” (mens rea) and “how” (modus operandi) ultimately leads to finding a motive. Find the motive and you generally discover the perpetrator.

Again, looking at the evidence presented at the joint trial of Chaz Minor and Larry Lewis, the Ohio First District Court of Appeals found that:

“At trial, Jamita Weaver and Geronimo Johnson identified Lewis as one of the perpetrators. Lewis’s cellmate also testified that Lewis had admitted killing Berry. (Kevin ‘Fresh’) Berry was known to sell high-quality marijuana in downtown Cincinnati. In March and April 2005, he began to sell it in the Fay Apartments…neighborhood of Cincinnati. A number of Fay Apartments denizens also sold marijuana there, frequently from ‘candy stores,’ apartments from which they sold candy, snacks, cigarettes, and marijuana. Fay Apartments marijuana sellers were concerned about Berry ‘taking [their] licks,’ or selling drugs in their territory.

“(Geronimo) Johnsson lived in the Fay Apartments with his sister, Montoya. He ran a candy store from his sister’s apartment. Lewis purchased cigars from their store. On the day before Berry died, and following an argument with Johnson’s sister’s ex-boyfriend, Hakeem, Lewis drew his .45-caliber handgun and engaged in a roving gun battle with Hakeem at the Fay Apartments. Lewis fired into the apartment occupied by Montoya.”

What initially stands out most, even to the casual observer absent the benefit of legal expertise, is the testimony that “Lewis had admitted killing Berry.”

(continued @ Part Four)

DANIEL MCKINNEY
DOC #A468437

NOTE: Yusuf Bilaal is an acclaimed legal research consultant. Yusuf has successfully researched and briefed cases for various actual innocence projects, inclusive of the Actual Innocence Project of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Yusuf may be contacted at: Yusuf B. McKinney, P..O. Box 4501 (A468437), Lima, OH 45802-4501, or at inmateblogger.com – McKinney, A468437

Categories: Daniel McKinney, INNOCENCE

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