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CLEVELAND (WJW) — A Cleveland man wrongfully imprisoned for 16 years on rape and robbery charges and later exonerated is expected to receive $4 million through a settlement reached last month with the city of Cleveland Heights, according to a Friday news release from the man’s attorneys from Friedman, Gilbert + Gerhardstein.
Christopher Miller was convicted by a jury in 2002 and sentenced to 40 years in prison, despite a lack of DNA evidence to prove his involvement in the attack on the Cleveland Heights woman a year earlier, while she was in her apartment.
The victim’s purse was stolen during the attack and police started tracking her cellphone, which was in the purse, the Associated Press reported. They eventually found the phone in Miller’s possession, and he said he had bought it from a stranger in exchange for drugs and denied involvement in the rape or the attack.
Thirteen years later, new DNA testing obtained by the Ohio Innocence Project excluded Miller, and instead pointed to two other suspects, both already imprisoned for a similar crime.
Miller’s 2020 lawsuit against the city claims the city’s investigating officers, Mark Schmitt and Benedict Osowski, “manipulated” the rape victim’s memory of her attacker, convincing her that it was Miller “using the manipulated memory of her attacker’s outfit,” it reads.
That’s the description that later made it into all future police reports, the suit claims. It was this “fabricated” evidence that was handed to prosecutors and presented at trial, according to the lawsuit.
Evidence obtained by the Ohio Innocence Project showed Cleveland Heights officers also “withheld key police reports, statements an other information from Chris’ trial defense attorney,” reads the Friday release from Miller’s attorneys.
“These reports and statements detailed the victim’s description to police immediately after the attack and were significantly different from what was stated in later police reports and testimony during the trial,” it reads.
In 2018, Miller’s conviction was vacated and he was released from prison. In 2021, a Cuyahoga County judge declared Miller to be a wrongfully imprisoned person, entitling him to state reimbursement, according to the release.
“Too many years were stolen from me and my family,” Miller said in a statement. “I can never get that time back, time to raise my children and build my life. But I am thriving now, and I am glad to put this final chapter of my case behind me so I can move forward.”
City officials declined to comment on the terms of the settlement Friday, since the agreement has not yet been executed and the case is still considered to be pending litigation.
Mike Thomas, Cleveland Heights’ director of communications, released a statement that reads, in part:
While the City and the individual police officer defendants steadfastly deny wrongdoing and liability, proceeding to try a lawsuit over events nearly 22 years ago poses a substantial risk for both sides in these circumstances. The City anticipates that the settlement agreement will be executed soon and the lawsuit will be dismissed accordingly.Mike Thomas, Cleveland Heights director of communications
People who have been wrongfully convicted have spent more than 28,770 years of life behind bars without cause, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.