Joe D’Ambrosio is the 140th death row inmate to be exonerated since 1973 and the 6th from Ohio. He spent 20 years on death row for the 988 murder of Tony Klann, 19, whose body was found in a Cleveland creek. There was never any evidence that Joe was at the scene, but Joe and two other men, Michael Keenan and Ed Espinoza, were all charged with his murder. In exchange for Espinoza’s incriminating testimony against Joe and Keenan, he was given a 12-year sentence. Joe was sent to death row.
However, a federal judge ruled in 2006 that prosecutors had not turned over strong exculpatory evidence that could have led a jury to find him not guilty, and threw out Joe’s conviction. Just before retrying Joe again, even more evidence was uncovered, and the state was also cited for not having divulged in a timely manner that the key prosecution witness, Espinoza, had died.
This time, the same federal judge barred his re-prosecution in 2010, and a county judge dismissed all charges against him in 2011. The state appealed this decision all the way to the US Supreme Court, but was denied. On January 23, 2013, Joe was finally a free man.
Upon hearing that Ohio could no longer hound him for retrial, Joe said, “Today was 23 years in the making. Justice has finally prevailed.”
Joe now works at the North Olmstead church of Father Neil Kookoothe, his stalwart defender during his ordeal, and has been very active since his release, speaking to audiences all over Ohio and elsewhere on how prosecutorial misconduct led to his wrongful conviction.