By Sharon Turco
The Cincinnati Enquirer
COLUMBUS - New DNA evidence was at the center of a clemency hearing Friday for death row inmate Jerome Campbell, who was convicted of killing an elderly West End man during a Christmas Eve robbery in 1988.
DNA evidence revealed last year that human blood on Campbell's white gym shoe was his own. Jurors in his murder case saw that bloody shoe, but never knew whose blood was on it.
Prosecutors say that blood was never a key part of the case, Instead, they said, eyewitnesses, inmates who heard Campbell confess to killing Henry Turner and fingerprints near the victim's door and on the hallway light bulb were the evidence jurors used to convict Campbell.
Defense attorneys called that evidence circumstantial and theorized that jurors were swayed by the blood on the tennis shoe.
"He was found guilty by a jury of his peers, and it was upheld in every court that heard the case," Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen said.
"It was a cold-blooded killing," conceded Ohio Assistant Public Defender Joe Wilhelm, "but do we have the right person? Campbell asserted his innocence then and continues to do so today."
The case has been upheld in every appeal and Ohio's Supreme Court gave no credence to the DNA revelation earlier this yearwhen setting Campbell's execution date for May 14.
The clemency hearing is the 41-year-old man's last chance. The Ohio Parole Board is expected to make a recommendation to Gov. Bob Taft next Friday. The governor has not granted clemency in the seven previous death penalty cases since 1999 and never has gone against the board's recommendation in such cases.
At age 89, Turner lived alone in a York Street apartment, selling alcohol and cigarettes in what prosecutors called a "bootlegging operation."
A neighbor found him dead, stabbed five times on the apartment stairwell landing, a knife still stuck in his wrist, that Christmas Eve morning. The Hamilton County Coroner ruled Turner bled to death.
Campbell quickly became a suspect after a neighbor woman said she saw him lurking around that building that night. And, Cincinnati police officers found the bloody shoe.
A jury convicted Campbell for Turner's death and in May of 1989 a Hamilton County Common Pleas Court judge sentenced Campbell to death on the jury's recommendation.
Appeal after appeal followed and then in 2001 the state announced it would provide DNA testing for its death row prisoners, but only in cases where it could lead to the case being overturned.
Campbell was the first to ask for one. It's that test - finished last September - that showed the blood was Campbell's own.
Campbell's family thought for sure the charge would be dropped, but that evidence has made no difference. More than a dozen members of his family packed into Friday's hearing. Some wore buttons with Campbell's picture.
His mother, Betty Campbell, spoke briefly, asking for mercy. Others spoke of the evidence they know so well by now.
"We have a very short time to get justice for my uncle," said Lisa Davis, Campbell's niece.
She said prosecutors are not infallible.
"They are human beings just like all of us here, and human beings make mistakes," she added.
Campbell's defense attorneys filed a motion with the Ohio Supreme Court asking for a stay and a new trial, citing the DNA evidence.
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