Judge apologizes for taping man’s mouth shut in court, recuses himself from re-sentencing

CLEVELAND- The FOX 8 I-Team sparked national headlines with exclusive video of a man getting his mouth taped shut in court during sentencing, and now, the judge has apologized and taken himself off the case.

Judge John Russo ordered the use of the  tape last week, and Monday, he called a special hearing to say he shouldn’t have done that.

Russo said, In retrospect, while there is legal precedent for gagging a defendant to keep order in a court, I apologize for taking that action last week.”

The judge ordered deputies to tape shut the mouth of Franklyn Williams. It happened as Williams got sentenced for a series of armed robberies and more.

Judge Russo said Williams interrupted more than 60 times in less than an hour. Williams walked out of court with a 24-year prison sentence.

But now, the judge says he never made that sentence official, and he has asked the Ohio Supreme Court to appoint another judge for a new sentence.

From jail last week, Williams told the I-Team,  he felt humiliated, and he had only been trying to bring out injustices.

Monday, in court, Williams only said multiple times, "Freedom of speech. No duct tape."

At the heart of this, so many of you keep asking if a judge is allowed to have someone`s mouth taped shut. The chief county public defender says there is case history before the US Supreme Court allowing it. And on Monday, Judge Russo reminded everyone the law backs him in what he did.

Meantime, for the first time, the NAACP is speaking out about this. Danielle Sydnor said, “Outrageous. Just a failure of basic human decency.”

Williams had been convicted even though he disappeared during his trial. In that jailhouse conversation, he claimed he didn’t remember any trial. He said, "Yes, sir."

"I was hit in the head and I didn't receive no medical treatment."

"I lost my mind. I lost my memory. I  don't even remember me going to a trial. That's what I was trying to tell them.”

A defense lawyer expressed some concern about a new sentencing for Williams. Might he get more time in prison? Lawyers also pushed for a mental health evaluation for Franklyn Williams before sentencing.

Late Monday, the Ohio Supreme Court said it had not yet received the request for the new judge.

Judge Russo also said, “A judge has a moral and ethical obligation to avoid the appearance of impropriety.” He added, “To my colleagues on the bench in Cuyahoga County, and the 700+ judges in the state of Ohio, I regret any impact or repercussions from my actions last week, I never want the fairness and justice you deliver in your courtrooms to be questioned, no matter the circumstances.”

More on this story, here.