Forty-five — that’s how many years Isaiah Andrews spent in prison over the killing of his wife in 1974. On Wednesday, Andrews, now 83, was found not guilty of the murder after his conviction from over four decades ago was overturned due to withheld evidence.
During his retrial, jurors deliberated for more than two hours over two days to reach the unanimous verdict on the single count of aggravated murder, cleveland.com reported. Andrews had maintained that he did not commit the crime. He said after the verdict that it “relieved all the weight off” him.
The Ohio Innocence Project, which represented him, said: “At close to 46 years, Isaiah’s time served stands as the second-longest known wrongful incarceration in U.S. history.”
One of the jurors, who spoke with cleveland.com on the condition of anonymity, said the jury did not find any evidence connecting Andrews to the killing. The juror said he was happy that the case went to a second trial, “just so that Isaiah Andrews has his freedom 100% secured.”
Andrews had been released from prison last year after a judge ruled that prosecutors failed to tell a jury in 1975 that police had interviewed another suspect in the killing of Andrews’ wife Regina Andrews. That suspect, known as Willie Watts, died in 2011.
Attorneys for the Ohio Innocence Project said they had hoped Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley would dismiss the charge against Andrews. O’Malley however offered a plea bargain that would keep Andrews out of prison if he pleaded guilty to killing his wife.
Andrews rejected the offer. “I want justice for my wife”, he told visiting Judge Tim McGinty.
Andrews had married his wife Regina Andrews in August 1974, after they had known each other for a few months. The couple lived at the Colonial House motel but subsequently moved to an apartment in Euclid. On September 18, 1974, a man found Regina Andrews’ in Forest Hill Park on the border of Cleveland and Cleveland Heights.
Her body was wrapped in bedding from three different hotels, with some of the linens bearing the stamp of a hotel where Watts had stayed the night prior to the killing, which was missing bedding, according to cleveland.com. Later, a maid at the Colonial House where Andrews and his wife had stayed told the police that one of the bedsheets found at the scene was the same type of bedding used by the Colonial Hotel.
Police detectives subsequently spoke with Watts’ mother, who lived less than 1,500 feet from the park where Regina Andrews’ body was found. She gave the police detectives an alibi for the time they initially believed Regina Andrews was killed. But when detectives later changed their estimated time of death to a time frame when Watts did not have an alibi, they never revisited him a suspect, cleveland.com reported.
Records even show that police released Watts from custody before they identified Andrews as a suspect. The police found no physical evidence to link Andrews to the killing. Among pieces of evidence that were found were blood samples and bodily fluids. In 2018, Andrews’ attorneys sought DNA testing of the evidence. When an appeals court gave the go-ahead for the DNA testing, the attorneys got to know that the evidence had been destroyed.
And that was when they also received the Cleveland police report containing details of the investigation into Watts that was not presented at Andrews’ first trial.
“As soon as we saw the report, it was clear that Isaiah Andrews was innocent and somebody else committed the crime,” Ohio Innocence Project attorney Brian Howe said.
Defense attorneys also included in a court filing that the other suspect, Watts, had been arrested four other times on charges of felonious assault and kidnapping against women. Three of those four cases were later dropped.
Andrews’ new trial largely consisted of transcripts being read from his original 1975 trial because many of the witnesses, including the police detectives who investigated the killing, are now dead.
“This was the right result today, but I don’t know if he’ll ever get actual justice,” Howe said after the verdict Wednesday. “He should have never been convicted in the first place and he certainly never should have been retried.”