Convicted in: Ohio
DNA used in exoneration? No
Reasons for wrongful conviction:
False or misleading forensic evidence
Joe's Wrongful Conviction
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 1988 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's Work Today
Joe now works at the North Olmstead church of Father Neil Kookoothe, his stalwart defender during his ordeal.
He has been very active in criminal justice reform since his release, speaking to audiences all over Ohio and elsewhere on how prosecutorial misconduct led to his wrongful conviction. Joe has stated: "When the state executes an innocent person, the mistake is irreversible."
In The Media:
1.25.12 Former death row inmate Joe D'Ambrosio, finally free, speaks out: Regina Brett
1.24.13 Federal judge throws out lawsuit by Joe D'Ambrosio, former death row inmate
5.22.14 Joe D'Ambrosio case is riveting in CNN documentary: Regina Brett
10.3.14 Wrongfully convicted Joe D'Ambrosio takes his case against Cuyahoga County prosecutors to U.S. Supreme Court
2.24.16 Death-row experience interweaves lives of priest, man he helped free
7.1.16 The priest, the exonerated death-row inmate and their continued battle against the death penalty
5.3.17 Former death row inmate shares story in Stark
7.10.17 Dale Johnston: Wrongful convictions make death penalty too risky
9.11.17 Cuyahoga County Judge Calls on Legislators to Stop Ignoring Death Penalty Reform
10.11.17 Ex-death row inmate, priest share story of life
3.10.18 Joe D’Ambrosio: System is too flawed to allow executions