Isaiah Andrews spent 45 years in prison after he was convicted of killing his wife in 1974. But "the guy was in prison for something he didn't do," a juror told Cleveland.com on Wednesday after the 83-year-old was acquitted of aggravated murder in a Cuyahoga County retrial. The jury had something jurors in the 1975 trial did not: a withheld Cleveland police report showing detectives had arrested a man named Willie Watts, based on evidence at the scene, before releasing him and focusing on Andrews. But the juror said there wasn't enough evidence to convict Andrews, even excluding that police report.
Regina Andrews' body was found in a park connecting East Cleveland and Cleveland Heights on Sept. 18, 1974, about a month after the couple were married. It was wrapped in bedding from three different hotels, including one in which Watts had stayed the previous evening. A maid said one sheet was of the same type used at a motel in which the Andrewses had been living. Apart from that, Isaiah Andrews, a former Marine, had served 15 years in prison after a 1958 conviction for fatally shooting his drill sergeant. Defense attorneys had sought to test DNA evidence from the Cleveland murder scene in 2018, but found it was destroyed.
That's when Andrews' backers at the Ohio Innocence Project discovered the police report regarding Watts, who died in 2011, per WEWS. He'd produced an alibi back in 1974. "But when detectives later altered their estimated time of death to a time frame when Watts did not have an alibi, they never revisited him a suspect," Cleveland.com reports. During the retrial, defense attorneys noted an investigator could find no one to provide Watts with an alibi for the true time of death. They also noted the suspect had other arrests for assaulting and kidnapping women and his mother lived within 1,500 feet of the park.
"This was the right result today, but I don't know if he'll ever get actual justice," Ohio Innocence Project attorney Brian Howe told Cleveland.com. "He should have never been convicted in the first place and he certainly never should have been retried." Prosecutors tried to push a plea deal that would have Andrews admit to murder in exchange for a judge deciding whether or not he should serve more time in prison, but he refused, saying he wanted "justice for my wife." Now, the acquittal has "relieved all the weight off [of me]," he told reporters. "I've become free." (Read more wrongful conviction stories.)