Judges for Justice

Judges for Justice 

Michael Heavey, a retired judge from Seattle, recently travelled to Toledo as a representative of Judges for Justice, a non-profit group dedicated to researching and exposing potential wrongful convictions and working to free the wrongfully detained individuals. Heavey had several meetings with area journalists and lawyers to share information and to gain publicity for the cause of Wayne Braddy, Jr. and Karl Willis, two individuals convicted for the 1998 murder of Maurice Purifie, now serving life sentences with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. Heavey, retired from the bench in King County, Washington (Seattle) is convinced, based on a number of factors, that Braddy and Willis were wrongfully convicted of a crime they did not commit.

Also, Heavey adds, that the atmosphere at the time likely played a role in the jury’s decision. “ (This) was also at a time when the OJ Simpson acquittal was fairly fresh in the memories of white Americans. Most white Americans felt OJ’s acquittal was wrong, it hardened a lot of hearts, even if subconsciously.”

Uncovering the story 

Through ambitious investigative reporting by Brian Dugger of Channel 11, WTOL, formerly a reporter for the Toledo Blade for two decades, there is a collection of compelling video recordings that point to the likelihood, and perhaps certainty, of the wrongful convictions of Toledoans Wayne Braddy and Karl Willis. 

An August 20, 2021 editorial in the Toledo Blade urged, based on the information uncovered by Dugger along with other factors, that the case be reopened to address the inconsistencies and to explore the likely potential that innocent men have spent the last 22 years behind bars, convicted for committing a crime they had nothing to do with.

Case background

In July 1998, Maurice Purifie, a 13 year old boy, was murdered in Toledo’s inner city in the early morning. The murder was committed with a firearm and the cause of death was four bullets shot at Purifie’s head and one into this torso.

Initially there were no suspects, but then, based upon a tip received by Toledo Police from a friend of Shondrea Rayford, Travis Slaughter’s girlfriend, that Rayford had shared that Slaughter had admitted that he killed Purifie. Slaughter was brought in for questioning by Toledo Police, and after 6 hours of questioning and denying 25 times during that period that he was involved, Slaughter claimed he was involved and that Wayne Braddy and Karl Willis were also involved. Thereafter, a presentation was made to the Lucas County Grand Jury which included reference to the statements made by Slaughter.  Initially, the grand jury did not find probable cause, commonly defined as 1. “a crime probably was committed” and 2. “that the Defendant(s) probably committed it.”  The case was re-presented to a Grand Jury and the second presentation included the information concerning the testimony of Shondrea Rayford, after which the Grand Jury returned an indictment, or notice of a charge of Murder, against Wayne Braddy and Karl Willis. 

Also, Heavey adds, that the atmosphere at the time likely played a role in the jury’s decision. “ (This) was also at a time when the OJ Simpson acquittal was fairly fresh in the memories of white Americans. Most white Americans felt OJ’s acquittal was wrong, it hardened a lot of hearts, even if subconsciously.”

Trial and outcome 

Slaughter entered a plea in 1999, admitting involvement in the murder of Purifie, and received a sentence of 18 years (10 years for the homicide, an additional three years for using a firearm and five additional years on another, unrelated charge), which he has served. Slaughter cannot now be tried again for the murder, as he has already admitted his involvement and been sentenced.  However, he has now come forward telling what he refers to as the “true story” of the killing of Purifie.

At the 2000 trial, when called to testify, Slaughter’s girlfriend, Shondrea Rayford, refused to testify and, based upon her disobedience of a Court Order requiring her to testify, she was sentenced to, and served,  a contempt punishment of 30 days in jail. 

The jury, with only the testimony of Travis Slaughter implicating Braddy and Willis, the same testimony that had led the Grand Jury to issue an original finding of insufficient probable cause to issue a charge/ indictment, convicted Braddy and Willis. Through the investigative work of WTOL’s Dugger, the foreman of the jury, when interviewed on camera in 2019 (see the interview here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vEfvntpRnM&t=36s) stated that when the Shondrea Rayford refused to testify, the jury, although they were instructed to disregard and NOT consider the refusal of Rayford to testify, in fact, did consider it and concluded, through assumption, that she was afraid of Willis and Braddy, or feared reprisal from their families. Instead, and again through Dugger’s investigative work, the reason Rayford now says she refused to testify, as part of a recorded interview in 2019, and spent 30 days in jail for contempt, was that she didn’t want to lie and she further related that she was being pressured by the police to do that . 

Opportunity to revisit 

The presentation of the case to the jury was done by the Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office. At the time of the trial, in 1999, and with the understanding that hindsight is always more focused and, perhaps, reliable, the prosecutor put on the evidence that was available at the time. All attorneys in Ohio are governed by the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct. Rule 3.8, titled Special Responsibilities of a Prosecutor, includes a note in the comment section, a section used to assist in interpreting the Rule. The comment states that “A prosecutor has the responsibility of a minister of justice and not simply that of an advocate. This responsibility carries with it specific obligations to see that the defendant is accorded justice and that guilt is decided upon the basis of sufficient evidence.” That responsibility continues, even after a conviction.

WTOL’s Dugger also interviewed Travis Slaughter, a co-defendant of Braddy and Willis, the only witness to testify, at the 1999 trial, who put them at the scene of the murder. During the 2019 interview with Slaughter, which can be viewed here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLwnWMm1CUg&t=963s, he states unequivocally that Braddy and Willis were NOT present and had NO INVOLVEMENT with the killing of Purifie in 1998.  Slaughter, who served 13 years for his involvement in the crime, a reduced sentence which he received, in part, due to his cooperation with the prosecution and testimony against Braddy and Willis, states emphatically that he created the false story about the involvement of Braddy and Willis to help himself. 

In the early-morning hours of June 15, 1998, a 13-year-old African-American boy, Maurice Purifie, was found murdered on Horace Street in Toledo. Purifie had been shot once in the chest and four times in the head.

Initially there were no suspects in the murder, but then, Toledo Police received a tip from a woman who claimed to be a friend of Shondrea Rayford. Rayford was then the girlfriend of  Travis Slaughter, who was in his early 20’s at the time.  The call to the police indicated that Rayford had shared with the tipster that Slaughter had admitted that he was the one who had killed Purifie. Slaughter, a boyhood friend and contemporary of both Wayne Braddy and Karl Willis, was brought in for questioning by Toledo Police, and after 6 hours of questioning and 25 denials during that period that he was involved, Slaughter eventually claimed he was involved, and that Wayne Braddy and Karl Willis were also involved. Thereafter, a presentation was made to the Lucas County Grand Jury which included reference to the statements made by Slaughter.  Initially, the grand jury did not find probable cause, commonly defined as 1. “a crime probably was committed” and 2. “that the Defendant(s) probably committed it.”  The case was re-presented to the Grand Jury and the second presentation included the information concerning the testimony of Shondrea Rayford, after which the Grand Jury returned an indictment, or notice of a charge of Murder, against Wayne Braddy and Karl Willis. 

Braddy and Willis remain in an Ohio Penetentiary, awaiting a determination by Ohio’s 6th District Court of Appeals, doing life sentences for a crime — the murder of Purifie — that they have steadfastly maintained, since the date they were charged, that they DID NOT commit. 

Tell me a little about yourself, Judge, what is your background?

 I’m 75 years old now, I grew up in Seattle and I  joined the Army in 1967 and served in Vietnam as an officer from ‘69’ to ‘70.  I was awarded a Bronze Star. I went back to school in 1971 and completed undergraduate school at the University of Washington and law school at Santa Clara University. I became a state legislator in the Washington State legislature for 14 years, eight in the House, six in the Senate.  In 2000, Governor Locke appointed me to be a Superior Court Judge (the general trial division in Washington State).  I retired in 2013.  

 How was the organization Judges for Justice formed?

 In 2007, a neighbor girl, who was also a classmate of my daughter, Amanda Knox, was arrested for murder in Italy. Long story short, I got involved. Amanda was completely exonerated in 2015 by Italy’s highest court. Amanda’s case sparked my interest in wrongful convictions. In 2013 I co-founded Judges for Justice with Michigan retired Circuit Court judge Peter Deegan. 

What does Judges for Justice do? 

 Judges for Justice has studied wrongful convictions to determine why they happen. We have cases in Idaho, Hawaii, and Pennsylvania. With regard to the Ohio case involving Karl Willis and Wayne Braddy, great work has been done by the Ohio Innocence Project and Brian Dugger of WTOL TV in his “Guilty Without Proof” series. Your readers should go to www.freewayneandkarl.com , it has a lot of good information about the case. Also, for a good overview about the process of investigating wrongful convictions go to our website, (www.judgesforjustice.org) and watch the first 18 minutes of Episode 12.

 Is your organization, Judges for Justice,  different from other innocence organizations, like the Innocence Project?

Yes, our organization is different in that we don’t represent defendants. We come in as independent neutrals, with expertise in wrongful convictions. We educate the community by uncovering and exposing facts and evidence to demonstrate that the convicted person is innocent. We also teach about the subconscious psychological factors that lead to wrongful convictions. 

 So, concerning the Braddy and Willis case, have you read Judge Cook’s decision denying a new trial? What do you think?

 Yes, I have reviewed it and discussed it with other members of Judges for Justice several times. Judge Cook is an excellent judge. You can tell he is a good person; he worked hard on that decision, it is clear. It is a well-written opinion, he writes like an appellate judge.  I disagree with his conclusions in the decision,  but I think I understand why.  

Why do you disagree with Judge Cook’s decision on Braddy and Willis?  

For the past 24 years the prevailing mindset in Toledo has been that Travis Slaughter, Wayne Braddy Jr, and Karl Willis killed Maurice Purifie. After all, Slaughter confessed to seeing a 13-year-old kid shot in the head four times, pled guilty and did 18 years in prison. Once a person’s mind is set, it is difficult to change that perception.

 In his decision Judge Cook mentions four or five times that Travis Slaughter is now saying he is innocent. That is correct, Slaughter is now saying that he, Travis Slaughter, is innocent, and that is new evidence, completely different from all of Slaughter’s previous statements. Judge Cook was entitled to make a fresh credibility determination of Slaughter’s new statement. To make that determination, Judge Cook could have ordered that a hearing be held to allow Slaughter to testify, under oath, in Court. However, Judge Cook decided that he would not hold a hearing to listen to Slaughter’s claim of innocence. 

 At a new hearing all sides could explore Slaughter’s original confession and how it morphed into his bolstered trial testimony. Attorneys on both sides could question Slaughter about this new assertion of his own innocence, and his rationale behind why he lied about his involvement when he testified 20 plus years ago. I spoke to Slaughter three times in the fall of 2021. It all made sense after I spoke with him. Even though Slaughter’s new statement flies in the face of the accepted crime narrative, fairness to Wayne Braddy Jr. and Karl Willis begs for a hearing on the new evidence. 

 Judges for Justice believes that Travis Slaughter is innocent too?

Definitely, but before we get into that let me tell you what we look for when evaluating alleged innocence. We have been studying wrongful convictions and why they happen for the last 10 years. First, we conduct a thorough investigation. In this case we saw that there was actually no physical evidence or eye-witness testimony other than Travis Slaughter.  In fact, Judge Cook points that out in his decision. And now, today, Slaughter has completely recanted his trial testimony.  Slaughters now states, under penalty of perjury, he was not at the murder of Purifie and to his knowledge neither were Braddy and Willis.  

Wrongful convictions are a terrible stain on our country’s justice system. The University of Michigan Law School maintains a website entitled The National Registry of Exonerations. As of September 2022 the registry has 3,249 exonerations since 1989 for serious felonies. Over 100 of these exonerees had been on death-row. A full ten percent of these exonerations, 322, had been caused by a false confession of a co-defendant. Ohio has five of those cases listed on the UM Registry. A wrongful conviction is the end result of a compromised legal process. Judges for Justice looks for the common signs of wrongful convictions. 

While conducting the investigation in this case, what did Judges for Justice look for?

In this case, first, we see, like any neutral observer, that there is scant evidence against Willis or Braddy. The only evidence is the police-bolstered trial statement that Slaughter came up with to avoid life in prison. And now that Slaughter has recanted there is no evidence at all. In addition, however, we look for the underlying, often subconscious motivating factors that cause wrongful convictions. 

In the 1990s Canada had three egregious wrongful convictions come to light. Finding that unacceptable, Canada’s Department of Justice studied how to prevent them in the future. The report from Canada’s Crown Prosecutors is a landmark study. They identified a primary cause, which the study termed “tunnel vision and its perverse byproduct of noble cause corruption.” We look for a determined investigator who is blinded by his tunnel vision and who uses noble cause corruption to overcome the lack of evidence. 

That’s a lot to unpack. Let’s start with who is the “determined investigator?”

Typically, these investigators are no-nonsense alpha law enforcement personnel. They are experienced. They know what prosecutors and juries look for. They are determined to get their way. The lead investigator in the Braddy and Willis case was Detective Bart Beavers. A Lucas County grand jury failed to find probable cause to indict Willis and Braddy based upon Travis Slaughter’s original confession. But Beavers eventually obtained two convictions, beyond a reasonable doubt, using the exact same witness. 

After the trial Beavers wrote elected prosecuting attorney Julia Bates a letter. He said he was the lead investigator and the case was “extremely difficult to prosecute.” He called it an “astounding” victory. He went on to say that the trial prosecutors “accomplished the unthinkable” by convicting Braddy and Willis. He states, and I quote, “In a case where victory hinged on the testimony of a co-defendant Travis Slaughter our backs were against the wall.” 

A trial is a search for the truth, not a Michigan versus Ohio State football game. Beavers’ self-aggrandizing letter, where he characterizes the Braddy and Willis convictions as “unthinkable,” is clear proof there was never a case with probable cause, let alone sufficient proof to convict. It could be ethically questionable for a prosecutor to bring a case without probable cause and sufficient evidence to convict.     

Portion of February 15, 2000, letter from Toledo PD Detective Bart Beavers to Lucas County Prosecuting Attorney Julia Bates.

When discussing wrongful convictions, what is “tunnel vision”?

 Tunnel vision is not a simple concept. It is also referred to as ‘confirmation bias’. It is a subconscious force. When a human being confronts  a problem and comes to a solution, he or she forms a subconscious bias which favors that solution. They search for evidence that confirms their bias, confirmation bias. They reject evidence, no matter how compelling and probative, if it is inconsistent with their bias. For example, if  you once had a transportation problem; your solution was to purchase the car you drive today. Now you search for evidence that confirms your bias, you see your car, make, model, and color everywhere. It is subconscious; you don’t realize you are doing it. When the underlying problem is who killed Maurice Purifie and your focus falls on Travis Slaughter, the tunnel vision becomes blinding.  You reject signs of innocence like Slaughter volunteering to take a lie-detector. You reject that portions of his statements made to police during the investigation, where Slaughter was wrong when he described the clothing Maurice was wearing and when Slaughter incorrectly said the murder weapon was a .380. (The clothing description from Slaughter when he was first interrogated by police was  that Maurice was wearing a red T-shirt and shorts, when Maurice was actually wearing a black and brown long-sleeved shirt with a white T-shirt underneath and long pants. The murder weapon was a .25 caliber not a .380, as Slaughter told police.)

What is “noble cause corruption”? 

 Police and prosecutors are on a noble cause, to make our community safe and to work to put the killer behind bars. When they are blinded by tunnel vision they corrupt the process. Not corruption like bribery, but corruption in bending the rules, maybe bringing a case without good evidence. They are knights in shining armor on a noble cause, a crusade. The detective can become blinded by the subconscious force of tunnel vision. 

In this case the detective/ lead investigator is absolutely sure Slaughter, Braddy and Willis are guilty. To get a conviction he uses what Judges for Justice calls “the power tools of noble cause corruption” to overcome the lack of evidence. The power tools include coerced confessions and incentivizing a witness’s trial testimony. This case, like many wrongful convictions, started with a coerced confession. 

So you are saying that in this case Travis Slaughter was coerced and made a false confession? 

What do you get if you squeeze an orange? You get orange juice.  But, when you put pressure on human beings you sometimes don’t get the truth. Slaughter was twice pressured and both times he lied. He lied to help himself survive. The first time, when he was  initially interrogated, he confessed to seeing the crime. The second time Slaughter was under pressure and made a false confession was when he testified against Willis and Braddy at their trial.

How do you determine that Travis Slaughter falsely confessed the first time he was  interrogated?

Bottom line, there is no corroboration. Every American over the age of 30 remembers exactly where they were when they heard about the 9/11 attacks on New York City. People remember traumatic events. In his first interrogation 18-year-old Travis Slaughter denied even knowing 13-year-old Maurice Purifie and Slaughter volunteered to take a polygraph.

During that first interrogation, Slaughter denied his involvement 25 times. After about five hours of interrogation, it dawns on Slaughter why the police are questioning him; he had forgotten, but now realizes, he had bragged falsely to his girlfriend that he killed Maurice in order to be “fly” in her eyes. At that point Travis thinks the police have good evidence against him and that he is going down, and he goes into survival mode. He starts lying by putting the blame on others, Braddy and Willis. In that August 27, 1998, statement Travis knew facts reported in the newspaper, but he claimed that a .380 pistol was used and that Maurice had been wearing a red T-shirt and shorts. That was untrue; the state’s ballistics expert said the murder weapon as a .25 caliber. Maurice was found wearing a black and brown long-sleeved shirt with a white T-shirt underneath and long pants. If Travis was really at the crime, he would have remembered the type of gun and what Maurice was wearing.  And he certainly would not have volunteered, repeatedly, to take a polygraph. 

Why didn’t Travis tell the truth later?

He tried. For the next six months he and his lawyer asserted his confession was false and involuntary. Then a trial judge at the time ruled that it was voluntary and admissible. At that point,  Travis feels he is going to be convicted and do life in prison without parole. But there is a way out; the State/ prosecutors will reduce his sentence if he testifies against Braddy and Willis.  In April 1999 Slaughter met twice with the prosecutor and the police to negotiate the terms of a lesser-sentence plea deal. They told Slaughter he needed to be more convincing, give more details. Travis learned the details of the crime from the police. They showed him pictures of the crime, including Purifie’s body. They corrected him when his answers didn’t sound convincing, or did not make sense or match the actual evidence. Travis learned it was a .25 caliber gun, not a .380 that killed Maurice. At trial, Slaughter gave a more factually accurate story; including stating that the gun was a .25 caliber. 

You mentioned something about the corpus delicti rule?

Yes, the corpus delicti rule requires that there must be independent evidence corroborating a confession before it is admitted in court. The rule’s genesis was Perry’s Case out of England. It is a case I first read about in a 2003 Ohio State law review article. In 1661 a man named William Harrison went missing. Suspicion fell on John Perry, Harrison’s servant, who was questioned by the sheriff.  At first Perry denied everything, but eventually Perry confessed to killing Harrison and hiding his body. John Perry also said that his mother, Joan Perry, and his brother, Richard Perry, helped him. Based on John Perry’s confession the three were charged with murder. A jury convicted the three Perry family members. One week later the three Perrys were hanged. Justice had been done. But not really, three years after the hangings William Harrison walked back into town, alive and well. Three innocent people had been executed for a crime that never happened. John Perry’s confession had been coerced. In response the corpus delicti rule was developed, that is, no confession is allowed into court without corroboration. The rule does not apply here because Purifie was obviously murdered. However, if you can be coerced into confessing to a crime that never happened, you certainly can be coerced into confessing to a crime that did happen. There is not an iota of corroborating evidence to support the Slaughter confession. It is clear to me, 337 years after John Perry, Travis Slaughter also falsely confessed. Travis Slaughter is John Perry, Karl Willis is Joan Perry, and Wayne Braddy is Richard Perry, all six innocent.  

Are there other factors from your investigation of this case that make you believe that  Willis and Braddy are innocent?

At every turn juries and judges have been concerned about Slaughter’s veracity. Originally, a Lucas County grand jury failed to find probable cause to indict Willis and Braddy based upon Slaughter’s original confession. The trial was only 10-hours long. After 18 hours of jury deliberation, the jury was deadlocked. The trial judge at the time ordered the jury to continue their deliberations, to go back to the jury room and to continue to consider the evidence in the case.  After a total of 26 hours, the jury arrived at a verdict. One could conclude that the jurors who weren’t convinced beyond a reasonable doubt were finally worn down.  John Crye, the jury foreman, recently stated that the jury violated the judge’s instructions in several areas. Judge Cook agrees that the evidence is thin and the only witness, Travis Slaughter, is a liar and not believable. In most cases, there is at least some credible evidence. In this case, there is none. Judge Cook points that out in his decision.  It seems unfair to keep Willis and Braddy locked up because of the testimony or Travis Slaughter, without at least a hearing on the Motion for a New Trial, where Judge Cook (not the original trial judge) could evaluate Slaughter’s credibility.  

Back to Judge Cook, do you disagree with him, with his decision?

Judge Cook states in his decision that the evidence is thin and that the only witness, Travis Slaughter, is a liar and not believable. However, Judge Cook found that if Slaughter’s recantation were presented to a new jury, it would not likely change the verdict. I have high regard for Judge Cook, but I couldn’t disagree more. I think a new jury would see it all makes sense with the new Slaughter testimony. Or the worst-case scenario, in my opinion, a new jury would say we don’t know what to believe, so we can’t find Willis and Braddy guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and very likely find them not guilty.    

 Any final thoughts?

 Lucas County law enforcement has ruined the lives of two innocent men and allowed Maurice’s killer to go free. This wrongful imprisonment should stop and the real killer should be pursued.