Cincinnatian freed from prison 13 years after wrongful conviction
Marcus Sapp becomes 39th person released due to the efforts of the OIP.
Cincinnatian Marcus Sapp—imprisoned for 13 years for a crime he didn’t commit—is now a free man thanks to the work of the Ohio Innocence Project at the University of Cincinnati College of Law and pro bono attorneys Martin Pinales, Eric Eckes (an ’08 UC law grad and former OIP Fellow) and Molly Tolbert. Sapp was released on bond Friday, January 27, 2023 from the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas.
Thirteen years ago, Sapp was found guilty of murder and assault in an Oakley home invasion that left a man dead. Though convicted, Sapp maintained his innocence. Eventually, he was able to connect with the OIP who agreed to take on his case. This connection occurred through 2005 law school graduate Julie Gibson, an attorney at firm Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease. Gibson has worked for years with Marcus Sapp’s aunt Rita Jamison. After hearing for years from Rita about how Marcus’ wrongful conviction has devastated the Sapp family, Gibson reached out to her former law professor Mark Godsey to see if the OIP could help.
Their (students) decision to intensely focus on the case and relentlessly pursue an investigation resulted in this win.
Professor Mark Godsey, OIP Director
Mark Godsey, OIP Director and Sapp’s attorney, said, “This case was totally broken open in the summer of 2021 by Correna Kuhl and Miranda Loesche (two students) within weeks of the start of their fellowship at OIP. Their decision to intensely focus on the case and relentlessly pursue an investigation resulted in this win, which is going to lead to freedom for a wrongfully convicted man.”
Through Kuhl and Loesche’s work, several critical errors were discovered that became the basis of the new filing by Sapp’s attorneys. The case against him was based almost entirely on his identification by the surviving victim, according to another of his attorneys Martin Pinales. At the time of the original trial, however, the jury never heard that the surviving victim had identified another person as one of his assailants shortly after the murder. In fact, investigators had gathered significant other evidence of guilt against that person. Neither Sapp’s attorney or the prosecutors at the time were given this information by Cincinnati Police.
The new filing claimed that the Cincinnati Police made an “egregious error” in the original court case by “never disclosing to the defense team” information that would support their case—the identification of another shooter. In addition, the filing noted that they [Cincinnati Police] presented “witnesses who flat-out lied,” committing perjury when they testified the victim only identified Sapp.
Earlier this month, Judge Jody Luebbers overturned Sapp’s 2010 conviction, which led to Friday’s bond hearing.
Counsel on this case was Professor Godsey of the OIP and Martin Pinales, Eric Eckes and Molly Tolbert of Pinales Stachler Young and Burrell law firm. Additionally, those assisting with the case include attorneys Morgan Dineen (’20) and Samantha Kovacevic (’20). Dineen and Kovacevic are former Fellows as well. Rosenthal post-grad Fellow Kate Flexter was also heavily involved in the litigation that led to Sapp’s freedom.
Special thanks to the OIP student Fellows who worked on this case: Correna Kuhl, Miranda Loesche, Natalie Gratzer and Melani Cora Faria.
"After you've freed an innocent man as a law student, how do you ever top that in your career?,", Godsey said, “except I'm not worried about that with this group of students. They'll all do great things. They deserve all the credit for this win.”
After you've freed an innocent man as a law student, how do you ever top that in your career?
Professor Mark Godsey, OIP Director
About the Ohio Innocence Project
The Ohio Innocence Project (OIP) at the University of Cincinnati College of Law — Ohio’s only law school-based innocence organization — is one of the most well-known and successful of its kind in the nation. Since its launch in 2003, the OIP has helped free 39 wrongfully convicted inmates who've collectively served more than 750 years behind bars. The OIP’s work includes helping develop and advocate for lasting criminal justice reform through legislation as well as launching OIP-U, an active network of student groups at colleges across the state.
Read more about the OIP's latest exonerations below.
- The Repository: Stark County man released from prison four years after wrongful conviction (Aaron Culbertson, 38th exoneration)
- The Ohio Innocence Project at UC helps free 37th client (Alan Butts)
The Atlantic: The breathtaking ingenuity of incarcerated artists
February 9, 2021
Gillispie was freed thanks to UC's Ohio Innocence Project in December 2011 after serving 20 years in prison for rapes he did not do.
U.S. News & World Report: Cleveland pays $4.85 million to OIP exoneree to settle wrongful conviction
December 2, 2020
The city of Cleveland will pay a man who was wrongfully convicted of aggravated murder and spent 11 years in prison before he was freed with the help of the Ohio Innocence Project $4.85 million to settle a lawsuit he filed against two city homicide detectives, reports U.S. News & World Report.
Crain's Cleveland Business: UC Law outperforms state average for summer, fall bar passage rates
December 7, 2020
University of Cincinnati College of Law graduates who took the summer and fall bar exam in Ohio outperformed the state average, reports Crain’s Cleveland Business.