BUCYRUS — A decision by Crawford County Common Pleas Court Judge Sean Leuthold to deny the motion for a new trial filed by the attorneys of convicted triple murderer Kevin Keith is being repealed.
“We will be appealing. The case will go to the Ohio Court of Appeals, Third Appellate District,” said one of Keith’s attorneys, Rachel Troutman of the Ohio Public Defenders Office on Tuesday. “Unfortunately, Mr. Keith’s case has only been considered, in-depth, by one body: the Governor’s Office in 2010.
Keith was convicted in 1994 of the murders of Maricell D. Chatman and her 5-year-old daughter, Marchae D. Chatman, and Linda J. Chatman, and the attempted murders of Richard Warren, Quanita M. Reeves, and Quenton M. Reeves.
He was sentenced to death but his sentence was commutation to life by then-governor, Ted Strickland in 2010. Keith has always maintained his innocence.
Troutman said in a press release to the Galion Inquirer on Thursday that Crawford County Prosecutor Matthew Crall claims Keith’s case has been carefully reviewed by multiple courts, and that they all reached the same conclusion.
“But no court has actually considered all of the evidence. No court has ever held a hearing and taken witness testimony, and it is Mr. Keith who has done everything to force as much as possible into the light of day. The prosecutor’s statement to the contrary is entirely misleading,” said Troutman
Crall released a statement last week stating the latest motion was the fifth time Keith has requested a new trial and the fifth time the motion has been denied or withdrawn.
“The Court was correct to deny this motion,” said Crall. “Allowing this motion to go forward would have established a horrible precedent where prosecutors would have become responsible for knowing and disclosing any complaint filed against any witness … even when that complaint is unfounded. Worse yet, the amount of frivolous complaints filed against police officers, forensic scientists, judges and prosecutors would increase exponentially.”.
Troutman said the prosecutor determined back in 1994 that the motive behind the Feb. 13, 1994 shootings was retaliation against informant Rudel Chatman, who was related to the victims.
Troutman said it was not until 2007 — after Mr. Keith had exhausted all of his allotted appeals in all the many courts cited by Crall — that Keith learned of the following evidence:
- The Galion Police had informants inside the inner circle of Rodney and Bruce Melton. The Galion Police had also spent “a large sum of money to purchase heroin from sources also connected with the Meltons.”
- Rudel Chatman—Marichell Chatman’s brother—was acting as a police informant regarding the Meltons’ drug activity; the Meltons became aware of Rudel’s role as an informant.
- The Galion Police heard, in January 1994, that the Meltons had “spread the word that anybody that snitches on them would be killed.”
- The Galion Police were told, on January 31, 1994, that Rodney Melton told their informant that “he had been paid $15,000 to cripple ‘the man’ who was responsible for the raids in Crestline last week.” (On January 21, 1994, nine people in Crestline, Ohio, were arrested for selling crack cocaine. Rudel Chatman was the police informant.).
- The Galion Police detectives knew Bruce Melton told another confidential informant that Rodney Melton was paid to kill Rudel Chatman
“The eyewitnesses at Mr. Keith’s trial testified that the shooter was wearing a mask that covered his mouth and nose completely. The eyewitness testified that the killer fled the scene in a cream or light yellow car, got stuck in a snow bank, and left a license plate impression in the snow bank — 043,” Troutman said.
Troutman said it was not until 2007 — after Keith had exhausted all of his allotted appeals in all the many courts cited by Crall — that Keith learned of the following evidence:
- A confidential informant told Galion detectives in 1994 that it was Rodney Melton’s practice to wear a mask that covered his mouth during his criminal activities, because Rodney has an identifiable gap between his teeth.
- A confidential informant told Galion detectives in 1994 that Rodney Melton insisted on using his Chevy Impala with a new yellow paint job in his criminal transactions. It was that yellow car that had two license plates registered to it: JKL218 and 043LIJ.
“At Mr. Keith’s trial, the prosecutor relied upon the forensic evidence presented by BCI’s Michele Yezzo in order to prove that a car to which Mr. Keith had access (a car that was blue, not yellow) left the license plate impression in the snow bank at the scene. The police relied upon Yezzo to rule out Melton’s car as the one that left the impression at the crime scene, and no one even examined Melton’s yellow car.
Troutman said it was not until 2016 — after Keith had exhausted all of his allotted appeals in all the any courts cited by Crall — that her office learned of the following evidence:
- Yezzo’s BCI co-workers reported her to superiors because she had a “reputation of giving department answer wants if stroke her” [sic] and was known to “stretch the truth to satisfy a department.”
- Yezzo was reprimanded repeatedly throughout her career, and she ultimately retired after a final reprimand that stated her “interpretational and observational errors” were “failures that could lead to a substantial miscarriage of justice.”
Retired FBI agent William Bodziak reviewed Yezzo’s work and the evidence she reviewed, and he determined she was wrong in her conclusions that implicated Keith. He also determined she was wrong in her conclusions that excluded Melton’s car. As Bodziak recently told the Columbus Dispatch, “There is nothing to support the conclusions she made, nothing at all.”
“The prosecutor’s assertion that a defendant could have discovered this information about Yezzo is absolutely false. The judge’s acceptance of that argument was in error,” said Troutman.
In an affidavit by former Ohio Attorney General Lee Fisher, he states that while he was the attorney general during Keith’s original trial, it was not his practice to personally review cases. He has since reviewed Keith’s case and said Yezzo’s findings regarding forensic evidence in the case were very likely wrong and that the prejudice in Keith’s case is very significant.
“I am deeply concerned that Ms. Yezzo’s conclusions and testimony led to a miscarriage of justice in Mr. Keith’s case,” he states in the affidavit.
Troutman said nobody has forgotten the victims.
“It is a disservice to them and to everyone for the prosecutor to rely on false promise of ‘finality’ if the real killer has never been apprehended or even investigated. The state has not solved a crime; they’ve only created an additional victim and allowed the real killer to remain at-large,” Troutman said.