A recent CDT story, “Convicted Ohio trucker loses appeal of 1994 murder conviction,” clearly describes the injustice perpetrated on trucker James Cruz Jr.
From the beginning and in 1996 and 1997 appeals, he’s protested that he’s innocent of murdering a high school hitchhiker. His petition was buried for 15 years while Cruz languished in prison until it mysteriously reappeared in 2012.
But prosecutors argued that it would be impossible to retry Cruz because six trial witnesses have died, nine others can’t be found and the original prosecutor disappeared.
In 2003, the evidence in the case was ordered destroyed. Why in the world? People’s lives depend on that evidence. Surely it makes sense to hold evidence in a murder until the accused and the victim are dead.
Now the current district attorney crows, “Victims deserve finality of verdict.”
The victims and the accused deserve the truth. What satisfaction to the victims could there be not to know for sure if the killer is running free? There’s no remedy for that, given the state’s shoddy treatment of the evidence.
But incarcerating what could be an innocent man is a heartbreaking travesty of justice.
The shocking fact that the state lost Cruz’s evidence should not penalize Cruz. In such a case, the state must free him.
Guilty or innocent, ex-cons have a hard road to walk. Cruz will suffer the rest of his life the stigma of having been accused of murder and imprisoned for 15 years already. Let him go.