WTVG: Toledo men convicted in decades-old murder freed ‘in the interest of justice’

Ohio Innocence Project works to free two men imprisoned for 23 years

Wayne Braddy Jr. and Karl Willis, both of Toledo, Ohio, were convicted and imprisoned in the 1998 murder of 13-year-old Maurice Purifie more than two decades ago. Both maintained their innocence over time and this week a plea deal allowed them both to walk free.

Braddy and Willis have been assisted by lawyers at the Ohio Innocence Project at UC, who worked to get the convictions before a federal appeals court. Talks between OIP lawyers and the prosecutors led to a deal termed by both sides as “in the interest of justice” through which Braddy and Willis would offer an Alford plea to involuntary manslaughter and aggravated robbery.

After accepting that plea, Lucas County Common Pleas court Tuesday granted Braddy and Willis judicial release, permitting them to return home. Initially, the two will be supervised during a period of community control, commonly known as probation.

An Alford plea is defined as a defendant formally pleading guilty to a charge while simultaneously expressing their innocence in relation to the charge.

Braddy and Willis are now the 41st and 42nd individuals freed by OIP in the project’s 20-year history.

View the release of Braddy and Willis on WTVG.

The proceedings were also covered by WTOL.

Wayne Braddy Jr. and Karl Willis are shown with OIP attorney Jennifer Bergeron.

Wayne Braddy Jr. and Karl Willis are shown with OIP attorney Jennifer Bergeron. Photo/provided.

“I have been working on this case since 2009,” said Ohio Innocence Project staff attorney Jennifer Bergeron. “Seeing Karl and Wayne released after so long was surreal and incredible. I am so excited to see them rejoin their families and start building their lives.”

A joint filing from OIP and prosecutor read, “for their part, Braddy and Willis maintain their innocence. Absent this agreement, they would continue to fight to prove their innocence and gain their freedom. However, after over 23 years of incarceration and litigation, they are also ready for a resolution in this case.”

In a statement to the court Tuesday, Karl Willis said, “I’m an innocent man, but I do want to go home. I understand it took an appeal procedure, but I’ve served 23 years. I’ve lost a lot and I just pray everyone can understand me, that I’m an innocent man, but I’ve been put in a tough situation and I accept it.”

OIP began work on Wayne’s and Karl’s case in 2008. Convictions for the murder of 13-year-old Maurice Purifie were secured against them in a trial where the only evidence was testimony from two witnesses – an 18-year-old who had repeatedly changed his story over the course of a six-hour interrogation with police detectives, and his then-girlfriend, who began testifying but then stopped.  She later said she stopped because she was not willing to lie against two innocent men.

No physical evidence was ever introduced implicating Wayne and Karl, yet a jury still found them guilty.

Erin Branham, who had worked on their case while an OIP Fellow during her time as a UC Law student, is now an attorney and participated as co-counsel in the court proceedings.  She said, “After working on their case as a law student, I was honored to represent them with Jennifer and watch them walk free.”

OIP co-founder and director Mark Godsey weighed in on the case.

“These two men are innocent,” says Godsey. “We're happy for their freedom, but the difficulty in winning innocence cases -- particularly when you draw entrenched prosecutors and judges time and time again like in this case -- is what forced them into this decision. The choice was to take an Alford plea, or potentially remain in prison for the rest of their lives. Given the state of our system, I can't say I would have made a different choice."

Learn more about the Ohio Innocence Project at Cincinnati Law

Wayne Braddy Jr. and Karl Willis

Wayne Braddy Jr. and Karl Willis shown after their release. Photo provided.

Featured image at top: Scales of justice and gavel image. Photo/Unsplash.

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