Ex-death row inmate in Ohio wants new trial amid new doubts

BUCYRUS, Ohio (AP) — A one-time death row inmate in Ohio whose sentence was commuted to life in prison has asked a judge for a new trial based on concerns that have surfaced about a former state crime lab worker.

Attorneys for Kevin Keith are questioning whether the state forensic expert provided unreliable testimony against him at his 1994 trial.

Michele Yezzo, who worked for Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation, has denied manipulating evidence during her career, but the state public defender and others are reviewing cases involving the longtime forensic scientist whose credibility has been questioned.

The review came about after a judge tossed out a conviction in another case and determined prosecutors withheld evidence. Specifically, there were concerns about Yezzo’s work on the case.

Yezzo worked for the state crime lab for three decades before resigning in 2009 after an internal investigation found issues with her work. Former colleagues have accused her of bias, and her personnel files show concerns about her credibility and past behavior problems, such as outbursts and threats against co-workers, The Columbus Dispatch reported.

Attorney General Mike DeWine said his office has reviewed some of Yezzo’s evidence-analysis work and found it credible. But he also said that if Yezzo’s background had been brought up in court while she worked for the bureau, cases might have been affected.

This new information is what prompted Keith’s attorneys to seek a new trial. They said it suggests Yezzo was “mentally unstable” and prone to making conclusions to please her supervisors.

Yezzo testified against Keith, connecting him to the killings of three people in Bucyrus through snow prints of a license plate and tire treads.

But Keith’s attorneys say a retired FBI agent expert in forensics reviewed the evidence and cast doubts about Yezzo’s conclusions, Cleveland.com reported recently.

Lee Fisher, who was Ohio attorney general at the time of Keith’s trial, looked at the new evidence and said he would not have allowed Yezzo to testify, according to the motion for a new trial.

Keith was sentenced to death in the 1994 shootings that killed three, including a 4-year-old girl, but former Gov. Ted Strickland changed the sentence to life in prison in 2010, citing “legitimate questions” about eyewitness testimony used to convict Keith.

Crawford County Prosecutor Matthew Crall has filed a motion against the request for another trial. He played down the claims against Yezzo and pointed out that there were eyewitnesses that connect Keith to the killings.