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Cleveland Man Exonerated After 46 Years In Prison For Wife’s Murder Sues City
Isaiah Andrews was acquitted in an October retrial after attorneys unearthed decades-old police reports pointing to another suspect in the case — files that had been inappropriately withheld from him in 1975.
A wrongfully convicted man who spent 46 years in prison for his wife’s murder has filed a lawsuit against the city, according to court documents.
Isaiah Andrews, 84, was acquitted in the murder of his wife, Regina Andrews during a retrial last October, according to News 5 Cleveland. He was convicted of the crime at his first trial in 1975, but a judge in 2020 reversed his conviction after an order from appellate court in 2019 led to the discovery of evidence withheld from Andrews' original defense team.
Regina Andrews’s semi-nude body was discovered near a Cleveland swim club back in 1974. Her killer had stabbed her 11 times before wrapping her body in hotel linens, as detailed with the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP). She and Isaiah Andrews had only been married three weeks, there was no evidence tying him to the crime scene and he had an alibi for much of the period determined to be the time of death.
He was convicted anyway and received a life sentence.
In 2018, the OIP filed a motion to test DNA from Regina Andrews’ rape kit and, in 2019, an appellate court granted their request. The samples, it was later determined, had degraded too much to rule Andrews out or anyone else in ... but, in order to process the evidence, the lab requested the case file from the police.
In the file, which was also forwarded to the OIP, lawyers learned that police had interviewed and arrested another suspect — Willie Watts — in the murder before charging Andrews.
That was news to Andrews and his attorneys.
“This was the first we’d ever heard of Willie Watts,” staff attorney Brian Howe of the OIP. said “There was nothing in the file or transcripts that indicated police ever investigated anyone else, especially that they ever arrested anyone else, let alone someone who had stripped the sheets off his bed that morning and who lived right next door to where the body was found.”
Investigators in 1974, it turns out, had traced the sheets wrapped around Regina Andrews' body back to a motel where Watts was staying — not the one where she and her new husband had been living. Watts, lawyers discovered from the police files, had been released from jail just two days before the murder and had initially gone to live with his mother, who lived less than a quarter-mile from the crime scene. Watts’ mother kicked him out after one day, when she found he’d stolen valuables from her home.
And he'd stripped the sheets from his hotel bed the day of the murder.
The unearthed report also also stated that Watts’ mother warned officers that her son had contacted a friend named “Ronald” to help provide an alibi. A pill bottle belonging to “Ron Martin” was discovered near Regina’s body.
After his arrest, Watts then provided police with alibi witnesses for his whereabouts during a three-hour period in which police initially believed the murder was committed; he was then released. But the time frame of the murder was later contested and revised by the coroner — leaving Andrews with an alibi and Watts without.
The state still tried Andrews instead.
And, after he was ordered out of prison in 2020, the state opted to try him again in 2021. But that time, a jury unanimously found Andrews not guilty of the single count of aggravated murder, his attorneys stated in a media release. At the crux of Andrews’ exoneration were the reports withheld by Cleveland investigators in 1975 and the information about Willie Watts.
“Watts, who died in 2011, was ultimately released from custody and was never revisited as a suspect," OIP attorneys said.
At the time that Andrews' conviction was reversed, he was the longest-serving innocent person in Ohio, his lawyers said.
On Tuesday, Andrews — who is in poor health — filed a civil lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio against the City of Cleveland and several members of the Cleveland Police Department.
“[The officers] robbed Andrews of his hopes and dreams for his young life,” his lawyers wrote in the filing, according to cleveland.com. “As a result of his wrongful conviction, Andrews spent years locked up behind bars, with the liberties granted to free citizens stripped from him.”
“He deserves an acknowledgment from the government actors who put him in prison for decades that what happened to him was wrong,” said his attorney Sarah Gelsomino, according to News 5.