Murder charges dropped against man because of change in Ohio’s self-defense laws

CLEVELAND- Cuyahoga County prosecutors dropped murder charges against a man who shot and killed another man while being assaulted at a Cleveland bar.

They say a change in Ohio’s self-defense laws makes it much more difficult to prove their case.

As the law stands now, the burden is on a defendant to prove that he or she killed someone in self-defense. But starting March 28, the roles are reversed, and prosecutors have to prove that the person was not just trying to protect themselves.

Monday, Cuyahoga County prosecutors dropped murder charges against 34-year-old Joshua Walker -- the same day his trial was scheduled to begin.

"It became readily apparent to our office that we wouldn't be able to go forward on this case, not only based on the new law, but based on the video that this was a self-defense case," said assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor Andrew Santoli.

October 25, 2017, surveillance video shows Walker sitting at the bar of the now closed Westender Tavern near West 116th Street and Lorain Avenue in Cleveland.

Aaron Mason, 32, was inside the bar too. Prosecutors say there was bad blood between the two men.

"You'll see him kind of stare at Mr. Walker and then approach, punch him, start punching him a few times," Santoli explains while looking at the video.

The fight quickly spills out onto the sidewalk in front of the bar.

"Mr. Mason's on top of Mr. Walker; Mr. Walker is brandishing a firearm and shoots him while he's on top and they're kind ensnarled into each other," Santoli explains.

Walker went on the run, until he was arrested in Phoenix last September. Prosecutors were ready to try him for murder, but the judge in the case ruled that he would abide by Ohio's new law on self-defense that goes into effect Thursday.

"Now, the state of Ohio has the burden to prove that the defendant did not act in self-defense," Santoli explained.

Under the current law, it is up to the defendant to prove three things: that he or she was not at fault; they were unable to retreat; and the amount of force they used was reasonable compared to what they were faced with.

"Is the force that he used to get away from that attack reasonable? And our office made a determination that, based on the evidence, we wouldn't be able to overcome that new burden at trial," said Santoli.

This is believed to be the first case in the state impacted by the new law, especially since it has not gone into effect yet.

Joshua Walker is not totally off the hook. He remains behind bars, facing federal firearms charges because he was in possession of a gun while on probation for a federal drug offense.

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