Mar 26, 2006

Danny Brown: Justice Denied, Again

(Toledo, OH) Danny Brown, a Toledo man wrongly incarcerated for 19 years, received a setback on Friday. The 6th District Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 vote, denied his petition to force the Lucas County prosecutor to either retry or exonerate him.

Danny was released in 2001 after DNA evidence proved he could not have been the man who raped and killed Bobbie Russell in 1981. However, county prosecutors continue to consider him a "suspect" in a non-existent investigation in the case.

I have written extensively about Danny's case in the past few years; here is an article I wrote that provides much greater detail. I am writing today to express my frustration and outrage that the Lucas County prosecutor's office continues to stubbornly refuses to give Danny Brown his day in court.

Their collective inaction prevents Danny from seeking restitution for 19 years spent locked in state prisons and, more importantly, prevents Danny from clearing his name.

I met Danny in 2001 while I was working as a waiter at a high-end local restaurant. He hired in as a dishwasher and worked his way up to a cook in the years he was there. I never knew his story while we worked together; I just knew him as a friendly coworker who worked hard and had a positive outlook on life.

We both left the restaurant around the same time, and I ran into Danny several months later at UT. We were both taking classes at the university, and in our brief conversation he mentioned an upcoming court case. It was then - some two years after we met - that I first learned of his ordeal.

I worked with Danny on several articles, and his case has become a focus of activism on my part. Because he has become my friend, I no longer write straight news stories on his case, but rather focus on editorials like this.

I have worked with and been friends with Danny Brown for almost five years. In that time I have found him to be one of the kindest, most decent people I have ever met. If I had been wrongly locked up for 19 years I would want revenge. Danny, however, remains philosophical.

“I want to change the system; I’m not angry at any particular person,” he said. “I hope to spend the rest of my life working to prevent this type of injustice from ever happening again.”

He's a better man than I.

What happened to Danny Brown could happen to any citizen, and it is time for the state to do the right thing. 19 years in prison is a lot of lost wages; is the state putting up roadblocks just to save the money it will have to pay Danny?

I'd like to close with a short anecdote about Danny Brown that demonstrates his character. Throughout the years I have tried to convince Danny to engage in a campaign to raise money. I think that there are plenty of good-hearted people who would donate money to right the wrongs that have happened to Danny, even if the state of Ohio is reluctant to make restitution.

Danny has instead always insisted that people should donate to groups like Centurion Ministries, the organization that believed in Danny and helped free him in 2001.

I brought the subject up again yesterday when we were working on a new blog for Danny, and I suggested that we open a PayPal account in his name for concerned people to contribute.

"Only if we open it for people to send money to Centurion Ministries," he said. "There are other people in the same position I was in, and it doesn't seem right for me to take money when others still sit in jail."

Julia Bates - do the right thing, and either exonerate this man or retry him.


Anonymous said...

Just one question for the author. Is there ANY connection or realationship between Danny Brown and Sherman Preston that predates prison life?

historymike said...


Danny vehemently denies it, and the prosecutors have had years to try and find some connection.

Preston denies any role in the Bobbie Russell murder, but of course can't explain how his semen ended up in her.

Preston was convicted in 1983 of a similar rape-murder, but Lucas County can't seem to bring themselves to try Preston for the Russell murder.

They hinge their entire case on the hole-filled testimony of a 6-year old child who changed his testimony numerous times and told prosecutors.

There is no physical evidence connecting Danny Brown, not even a fingerprint. One child says that Danny Brown killed his momma, and the other child said it was someone else (a cab driver named Donnell).

The police and prosecutors chose to believe the 6-year old over the 3-year old.

Was it convenience in that the police had a suspect they could close the case on? You be the judge, but the bottom line is that prosecutors now say that Sherman Preston raped Bobbie Russell, while Danny Brown could have killed her.

BTW - the name "Sherman Preston" as not even connected to the case until the DNA tests in 2000.

Finally - since murder has no statute of limitations, Danny Brown could remain a "suspect" in the inactive investigation until the day he dies.

Maybe that's what the prosecutors really want.

Stephanie said...

Good for you for keeping up with this, Mike! Now I'm going to check out the new blog...

Dave said...

First poster again, What was the basis for the 6th District's denial? Does Danny have any further appellate avenues?

historymike said...

The two justices who voted to uphold the lower court said that Danny and his lawyers did not provide enough evidence that he should not be a suspect.

(no comments about the irony of an innocent man having to prove he is not guilty)

Judge William Skow, the dissenter, said that the majority accepted the "state's definition of 'ongoing investigation' to include passive waiting for any evidence in any case that has ever been opened, regardless of whether any actual, active 'investigation' is occurring."

Skow also wrote that "the lack of activity on the part of the prosecution leads me to the inescapable conclusion that there was, in fact, no "ongoing" investigation being conducted. On that basis, I conclude that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to the question of whether further prosecution was really attempted in this case, or ever will be."

Danny's next immediate move will be to appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court.

He is also considering bringing action in federal courts along the lines of denial of civil rights.

Danny is not out of options, but he was pretty depressed yesterday.

I have to add one more thing: in almost five years I have never seen Danny Brown get angry or even raise his voice. His ability to adapt and have faith during this despicable situation is truly inspirational.

I vote for Denzel Washington in the film version.


Lisa Renee said...

I think his stance to not try to get public funds proves he is trying to do what is right. If he were to try to profit from a blog or any other fundraising attempt people would point to that rather than to look at what the real issue is.

I also think it was a bad ruling by the court of appeals and hope that he finally gets justice. It shouldn't have taken this long and it could be very easily resolved by the Lucas County prosecutor's office.

I'd also write after reading the pdf of the decision here I hope the Supreme Court has the same wisdom as Judge Skow in his dissent.

historymike said...

Lisa -

You are an incredible researcher (don't respond with a modest comment!) in addition to your work as a writer.

Thanks for the link. I, too, wish we had more gutsy jurists in this state like Skow.

Dave said...

Just reading through the decision...

One correctable item would seem to be in

14. ...appellant had not filed an affadavit stating that he was innocent of the murder or directed the court...

Merely providing an affadavit would have helped case provide traction.


19. The petitioner carries the burden of proof in affirmatively establishing his or her innocence...

That seems like a high hurdle in this case. Particularly if local prosecutors are willing to let it sit as a cold case.

24. ...must prove that at the time of the incident for which they were initially charged, they were not engaging in any other criminal conduct arising out of the incident for which they were initially charged...

Again, a high hurdle, the detective and the now grown boy insist there were two men there.

Again in 24, they request an affadavit.

In the minority opinion in 29, the dissenting judge seems convinced that its gone to a Cold Case Unit to languish.

I'd like to see original trial transcripts to see how the prosecution played it. Did they allow for the "second man", (so far unnamed and uncaught) or was their theory at trial that the crime was committed by a single individual, Danny.

If their theory was a single individual at trial, and they have revised it based on the DNA results, that seems like they are trying to make the facts fit their theory rather than the other way around. Either the testimony of the the 6-year old child was accurate when he said there were 2 men, or it wasn't. It was accurate when he said it was Danny, or it wasn't. Prosecuter can't cherry-pick results to hold the case open.

/Not a lawyer FWIW, just an occasional critical thinker

historymike said...

Critical thinking is not the sole province of lawyers, Dave.


You astutely note the flip-flop of the prosecutors an investigators on the issue of the "one-man versus "two-man" theory. From 1981-82 during the investigation and trial, everyone was happy to forget that Jeffery Russell talked about two men.

Now that a one-man theory no longer fits, they want to drag up the earlier, discarded testimony of Jeffery that two men were involved.

Skow correctly notes that there is a difference between active and inactive investigations, and that the state is basing its case on an investigation that really does not exist.

My suspicion is that Danny will fare better in federal court, where there is less pressure to uphold the decisions of lower state courts. I can't see the law-and-order dominated Ohio Supreme Court overturning the Court of Appeals.

Also (and this is just my opinion) - I question just how much time Jon Richardson can devote to Danny's case now that he has his hands full with the Tom Noe case.

Danny is loyal to Richardson since he helped get him out of jail, but I hope that he is not making a mistake.

Dave said...

It's not unnatural that a 6-year old boy would pick a familiar face out of a group of unfamilar ones, or a familiar person out of a group of strangers. Repeated questioning of the very young has been shown to introduce bias into their testimony.

If the investigating agencies decided on their suspect early in the investigation, then excluded leads or evidence based on that theory, (i.e. tailored the investigation to FIT the theory) AND it can be shown that it happened that way, then Danny should ultimately prevail. Don't know what the climate in the Ohio Supreme Court is like, but I agree, chances are probably better in the Federal System. Looks like it's going to take quite a bit of time and effort in any case.

If you get Denzel for the movie, I'm watching it!

Stephanie said...

I still don't get the part where he has to prove himself innocent. How is that legal?

Lisa Renee said...

Mike, I've used the online court feature for other cases so that's how I knew it was there.

I think the main problem with this is exactly as Judge Skow states, there does not appear to be any real ongoing investigation and allowing this to happen would create a situation where anyone who was wrongfully convicted would never meet the requirements.

It's legal Stephanie because that's how they've set up the process as far as filing for damages on a wrongful conviction. I don't agree with it as a standard but that's where that comes from, from my understanding of it. Mike is more knowledgeable on that aspect of it if I am wrong.


Stephanie said...

I think they'd be able to challenge the Constitutionality of that fairly easy. Hey, it might make the various states seek surer convictions too!

historymike said...

(historymike KNEW Lisa was going to get all modest on him)

Good work, even if you downplay your skills, Lisa!

You understand the situation very well, Lisa. Danny has been freed, but by being a "suspect" he is unable to collect what he is due under Ohio law for wrongful incarceration (the last I checked it was about 30K a year plus interest for every year).

By keeping Danny in legal limbo, the state does not have to pay him.

What's worse is when you hear people in the prosecutor's office say things like: "Well, at least Danny Brown is freed."

What bullshit. Yes, he is free, but he has this cloud of suspicion over his head, and he had 19 years stolen from him.

The man deserves justice.

Lisa Renee said...

I agree he deserves justice and what's stupid is the County has probably spent more money on defending this than if they would have just done the right thing.

On a personal note, I wasn't being modest, I just know alot of the court sources on line so it wasn't hard to locate the decision. This county has a lot of information online, amazing just have to know where to look for it.


Stephanie said...

(Yes, I agree Lisa was being modest! What's worse, she means it!)

Danny Brown certainly deserves justice. The least they could do is retry him. When they couldn't get the same verdict, or one similar, let it go. They should probably just exonerate him and pay up.

Anonymous said...

They must be pretty sure that he wasn't the rapist to free him. So I say it is time to truly free him and pay him as well.

JayPeeFreely said...

It was good to see your blog about this particular subject. I became aware of this back in 2005-2006 and wrote a post on it at an old blog. Today, in response to another bloggers' posting about bad cases, I came back to it.

I wrote a post on this case - using your entire article from 2004 - on Danny.

I understand somewhat the place he has been. (I've been there.) To be innocent, and have your life nearly destroyed, it takes a courage few possess. Danny must possess it.

Though I don't know him, I wish him well and if you take donations, I'd be willing to make a small one best i can. Contact me via my blog or my email.

Good Luck in your fight against injustice.

Dr. Small said...

I must say God bless you for what you are doing to help an innocent man. I have one question, Why haven't they spoke to the 6 yr old child at the present he is 25+ yrs old. I know he has to think about the death of his mom and what really happen., or have nightmares about it, this was mamma and not a friend.!!!!! Thanks Dr. B S of Mississippi

SHARON said...