By Amanda Lee Myers
CINCINNATI: An Ohio man freed after spending 20 years in prison for a murder that his attorneys say he didn’t commit has sued those responsible for his conviction, accusing them of taking advantage of his mental illness and railroading him into confessing.
The civil rights lawsuit, filed in federal court in Cleveland on Monday, says that Richland County Prosecutor James Mayer and his employees violated Tinney’s constitutional rights by exploiting his well-documented and severe mental illness, and used coercion and bribery to secure his confession.
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, also accused the county of implementing a de facto policy of pursuing wrongful convictions “through profoundly flawed investigations and coerced evidence.”
“This case is extremely troubling because the people who were supposed to protect Mr. Tinney exploited his vulnerability and caused him to confess to a crime that they knew he couldn’t have committed,” one of Tinney’s attorneys, Samantha Liskow, said Wednesday.
Mayer did not return a message seeking comment Wednesday. County commissioners declined to comment.
Tinney pleaded guilty in 1992 to the beating death four years earlier of 33-year-old Ted White at the waterbed store White owned in Mansfield in northern Ohio. He was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.
Tinney confessed to the murder while serving time in prison in an unrelated robbery after the prosecutor’s office targeted the case as part of Mayer’s campaign promises to solve cold cases.
Richland County Judge James DeWeese ordered Tinney’s release last year, saying that while it was impossible to prove his innocence, his confessions didn’t support a murder conviction and in fact, suggested that he was not guilty.
DeWeese’s order came after a weeklong evidentiary hearing, which showed that Tinney’s five separate confessions to the murder varied greatly from one another and that most of the details he gave did not match the facts of the case, including the murder weapon used.
“Mr. Tinney confessed to killing a man he could not identify (in photographs), for conflicting motives which don’t match the facts, at the wrong time of day, with a weapon that does not match the victim’s injuries, by striking him in the wrong part of his head, and stealing items the victim either still possessed after the attack or probably never possessed,” DeWeese wrote.
Prosecutors are appealing DeWeese’s order.
At the time of his confessions, Tinney was not taking medication for paranoid schizophrenia and depression, suffered from hallucinations and delusions, and could not discern fact from fiction, according to the lawsuit.
“Mr. Tinney’s mental illness made it impossible for him to either provide reliable information to (the prosecutor’s office) regarding the White homicide or exercise his free will to confess to a crime,” according to Monday’s lawsuit. “This would have been immediately obvious to anyone interacting with Mr. Tinney.”
Tinney’s case only was reopened after a Mansfield police officer named Eric Bosko, who said he felt certain of Tinney’s innocence, brought it to the attention of the Cincinnati-based Ohio Innocence Project, which defends inmates they’ve identified as being wrongly imprisoned.
Mayer has argued in court that Tinney is guilty and that his inconsistent confessions are the product of police animosity toward him.
Mayer said that when he ran for prosecutor in 1988, most Mansfield police officers backed his opponent. He also cited several conflicts with the agency’s officers over the years.
DeWeese rejected those arguments, finding the Mansfield officers who worked on the case were professional and their investigation extensive.