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US Man on Death Row for 20 Years for Crime He Didn't Commit Saved by Priest Days Before Execution

A priest saved the life of a man on death row for 20 years after being unfairly convicted for a crime | Image for representation | Credit: Reuters

A priest saved the life of a man on death row for 20 years after being unfairly convicted for a crime | Image for representation | Credit: Reuters

Ohio resident Joe D'Ambrosio had to spend more than 20 years on death row and was just days away from execution until a priest showed up and saved him.

The criminal justice system can be tricky and complicated, as is evident from the large number of discrepancies when it comes to the conviction of innocent persons for crimes they did not commit. Something similar happened to an American citizen in the Ohio state of the USA. Joe D'Ambrosio had to spend more than 20 years on death row and was just days away from execution until a priest showed up and saved him.

Joe's life changed in 1988 when he was just 26-year-old and was accused of murdering 19-year-old Anthony Klann, whose body was found near a Cleveland creek, with his throat cut from ear-to-ear. Police stormed Joe's apartment after receiving a tip-off, claiming he and two colleagues at a landscaping firm, Michael Keenan and Eddy Espinoza were responsible for the murder.

In a trial that lasted less than three days – the shortest ever trial in Ohio's history – and hinged on Espinoza's testimony, Keenan and Joe were convicted and sentenced to death. It was only when Father Neil Kookoothe, a former lawyer and nurse, was visiting another inmate at the prison and offered to take Joe through his mother's funeral that things started to change.

Joe told Father Neil how short his trial was and the attorney in him kicked in. It was striking that a murder trial that generally lasts for months was finished in two days and Father Neil started doing a little digging and found that Cuyahoga County prosecutors had hidden evidence that would have saved Joe's life.

Speaking to LadBible, he said part of the evidence, which was based on Espinoza's testimony of that night, alleged that Klann had his throat slit and then ran away screaming for help. But Father Neil says it is physiologically impossible that he was screaming. Having worked with trachea patients as a critical care nurse, Father Neil knew that when trachea is compromised, the person can't talk. Yet the coroner took the stand and said he was running away from his perpetrators screaming for his life.

With the help of Father Neil's legal skills, in March 2010, judge O'Malley barred Cuyahoga County prosecutors from retrying Joe for the murder of Anthony Klann. And Joe became the 140th person to be released from death row since 1973.


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