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An Ohio inmate who was convicted of a triple-murder and was once 13 days from execution is now suing authorities who he said withheld the checkered work history of the forensic analyst who provided crucial evidence at trial.

Kevin Keith, currently locked up at the Marion Correctional Institute, has been behind bars since 1994 for the triple slaying, which left three others wounded. Tire track analysis and license-plate imprints in a snowbank helped lead to a conviction, and a death sentence, according to the federal lawsuit filed this week.

Those two pieces of forensic analysis were provided by the first named defendant in the new lawsuit, G. Michele Yezzo, a former forensic scientist at the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation—whose work on multiple criminal cases has been questioned.

Five years before the triple murder, an internal BCI memo had stated Yezzo’s “findings and conclusions regarding evidence may be suspect. She will stretch the truth to satisfy a department.”

Keith and his attorneys contend that he should have a new chance to inspect the evidence that almost resulted in his execution.

The six people were shot in a Bucyrus Estates apartment on Feb. 13, 1994. Marichell Chatman, Linda Chatman and Marchae Chatman were all killed. Richard Warren, Quanita Reeves and Quentin Reeves all survived their wounds.

Witnesses at the scene and in the area described the gunman as being masked, and getting away in a light-colored car—but not before the vehicle got stuck in a snowbank.

Police took tire and license plate impressions from the snow. The partial plate number, officers determined, was “043.”

The lawsuit alleges that Yezzo made a determination that the tire tracks and the license plate both matched Keith’s girlfriend’s grandfather’s car—a blue-green car with the license plate “MRV043,” according to the court documents.

Yezzo found that the plate impression had “spacing and orientation similar to the license plate ‘MRV043’ on the vehicle submitted” as evidence.

Additionally, Yezzo made a tire match based on a receipt and brochure provided by police detectives, according to the suit.

“Yezzo never physically examined any tire,” the suit adds.

Yezzo testified by deposition, not in person, two weeks before she was to appear before a pre-disciplinary hearing as a follow-up to her being put on temporary leave. (Yezzo was also accused by a black coworker of using racial slurs at work.)

The police arrested Keith two days after the attack. At first police said Warren told a nurse at the hospital that his attacker’s name was Kevin, and investigators later claimed that the survivor of the attack wrote down the name on a piece of paper that another nurse later threw away. But Warren himself said his hands were strapped down when he came out of trauma surgery, court documents state.

The suit alleges that police obtained a 1994 subpoena before trial from Keith—and someone at the Bucyrus Police Department wrote “Ignore For Now” atop the document. Keith claims in his suit that he only obtained that information last year.

Keith was convicted and sentenced to die in May 1994. His execution date was scheduled by the Ohio Supreme Court for Sept. 15, 2010. But with 13 days to go, then-Gov. Ted Strickland commuted Keith’s death sentence to life in prison because of “real and unanswered questions” about the “forensic evidence about which important questions have been raised.”

“But for Gov. Strickland, Keith would have been executed without BCI ever disclosing to him the material, exculpatory information regarding Yezzo,” the suit contends.

Keith’s attorneys—James R. Wooley, Zachary M. Swisher and public defender Rachel Troutman—had hired a former FBI special agent, William Bodziak, to assess the license plate and tire track evidence.

The former FBI agent’s findings “directly contradicted Yezzo’s conclusions,” the suit states.

But the Ohio courts have ruled against Keith’s pursuit of a new trial. The trial court denied his motion in January 2017, a decision upheld on appeals five months later.

Just last month, the Ohio Supreme Court declined jurisdiction on the inmate’s Brady evidentiary claims.

Yezzo retired in 2009, after being reprimanded for making forensic errors. Her career was the focus of a series of stories in The Columbus Dispatch in October 2016.

The suit also alleges witnesses had identified another shooter, who was a convicted killer at the time of the triple slaying, and who was driving a yellow car.

One of the license plates registered to that yellow car: “043LIJ,” according to the lawsuit. 

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