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Ohio Innocence Project Takes Case To Court For First Time On Oct. 1


The Ohio Innocence Project gets its first major day in court on Friday, Oct. 1, when a petition filed by the project on behalf of Christopher Lee Bennett will be heard in the Stark County Common Pleas Court.

Date: 9/29/2004 12:00:00 AM
By: Carey Hoffman
Phone: (513) 556-1825

UC ingot   The Ohio Innocence Project gets its first major day in court on Friday, Oct. 1, when a petition filed by the project on behalf of Christopher Lee Bennett will be heard in the Stark County Common Pleas Court.

Bennett’s petition is based on new evidence developed by University of Cincinnati law students, working under the guidance of UC Associate Professor of Law Mark Godsey. Godsey is also the faculty director for the Lois and Richard Rosenthal Institute for Justice/Ohio Innocence Project. He and Ohio Innocence Project Administrative Director John Cranley will be serving as co-counsel for Bennett during the petition process.

The Ohio Innocence Project is based in the UC College of Law as part of the Lois and Richard Rosenthal Institute for Justice, offering UC law students an outlet for unique, real-world legal experiences.

Friday’s hearing is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. in the courtroom of Stark County Judge V. Lee Sinclair. Bennett’s defense is scheduled to present their case in support of overturning his conviction at the start of Friday’s proceedings. Bennett is currently serving a nine-year sentence for aggravated vehicular homicide.

Bennett pled guilty in the 2001 death of Ronald Young after the van in which they were riding crashed. Bennett, however, suffered significant head injuries in the crash and has no memory of the accident.

Evidence initially developed by the prosecution suggested that Bennett was the driver, but additional new evidence – including DNA analysis and new witness testimony – produced through investigation by UC law students participating in the Ohio Innocence Project now makes a strong case that Bennett could not have been behind the wheel.

DNA evidence from the passenger’s side of the dashboard in the van that crashed was submitted for review with Cincinnati’s Hoxworth Blood Center. It showed that blood found in a paper towel and around a rock found deep within a crack where the windshield and the dashboard met came from Bennett, and Bennett only. Additionally, a small cluster of hair and scalp found within the passenger’s side defrost vent also was a match for Bennett.

Finally, Young had no injuries consistent with a windshield impact or that were producing the type of blood-loss pattern seen on the windshield.

Bennett says the only reason he pled guilty in the first place was because he had no memory of the accident, and the prosecution had a witness that placed Bennett on or around the driver’s seat when he arrived at the accident. Young’s body was found on the floor between the passenger’s side and center console.

Investigation by the Ohio Innocence Project students found that a nearby resident to the crash scene, Lee Meadows, was actually on the scene before the prosecution’s witness. Meadows states in an affidavit that he arrived only seconds after the accident, and that he found Bennett in the passenger’s side seat of the van with his right arm extended out the open van window.

Bennett’s counsel at the time of his prosecution neither sought out additional witnesses for interview nor pursued DNA or accident reconstruction expert testimony.



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