The Lucas County Attorney’s Office has until September 2 to respond to a motion based on 11 Investigates’ Guilty without Proof investigation.
TOLEDO, Ohio – In early August, Karl Willis turned 42 at the Allen Correctional Institution.
“I was arrested on July 9, 1999 and turned 20 while fighting on the case in the county jail,” Willis said. “And here I am, 22 years later, still against this case with another birthday.”
“This case” is the June 15th murder of 13-year-old Maurice Purifie, who died in a hail of bullets in the center of Horace Street in central Toledo. Willis and his lifelong friend Wayne Braddy were convicted in January 2020 after co-defendant Travis Slaughter testified against them.
Willis yells at the top of his lungs, “For something I didn’t do” when he was taken away after being convicted is an image burned into the memories of those who followed the case.
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Braddy and Willis have maintained their innocence since they were arrested by police after Slaughter named them in a six-hour police interrogation. Her story was investigated by the 11 Investigates team in Guilty without Proof in 2019.
That story later led Slaughter and her witness Shondrea Rayford to come forward to say the men were innocent. Slaughter, who received a deal from the state for testifying, claimed his story was coerced – and trained – by detectives and prosecutors. At this point, no one claims that Braddy and Willis had anything to do with the murder.
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The investigation formed the basis for a new men’s appeal filed last year. On August 12, Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Gary Cook granted her motion to retrial. The Lucas County’s Julia Bates office now has until September 2 to respond to the request. She could object, join the motion, possibly not even respond. In last year’s filing, her office received renewals.
If the state responds, the men’s attorney Jennifer Bergeron of the Ohio Innocence Project could respond before Judge Cook likely schedules a hearing on the motion for a retrial.
A welcome preliminary decision for the men and Bergeron.
“We are pleased that the court has granted our application and will now examine the application of Mr. Braddy and Mr. Willis for a new trial,” said Bergeron. “Both men have protested their innocence throughout the trial and, put simply, there is no evidence to support their beliefs. They look forward to achieving justice.”
The public prosecutor’s office did not respond to a request for an opinion on the judge’s decision.
In a 2019 story, Maurice’s brother Troy said that he now believes the men are innocent. Other family members continue to believe that the men were behind Maurice’s murder.
But the family and many members of the community continue to stand behind Braddy and Willis.
Childhood friend Harold Harris, known as Clyde Green on the 419 Grind radio show, recently returned to Savage Park on Nebraska Avenue. It was a place where he and Braddy and Willis were together as kids.
“We got to City Park before it was converted into Savage Park. We met to play football in the school yard, ”said Green, pointing to a piece of land far away. “It was a shock to the neighborhood. I never knew Travis Slaughter or his side. But it was a big shock for me to see Wayne and Karl get into such a situation. “
Killers are not like Harold Harris describes his old friends. He said none of this made sense.
“Often you get into trouble and say I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it. But then you break down and say, ‘Okay, I did it.'”
But that has never happened before. For almost all of his interview, Slaughter said he knew nothing about his crime. Rayford, whom he called his girlfriend, reportedly called CrimeStoppers to say Slaughter had admitted the crime. She later told 11 Investigates that she didn’t make that call, it was a friend who gave her name.
In court, Slaughter told jurors that he had offered Braddy and Willis to shake up Slaughter, who he said owed him money. He later admitted not giving them any money.
“I just couldn’t imagine Wayne and Karl messing with a little guy like that. Maybe it would be a different story if Mr. Purifie was 17 or 18, ”Harris said. “You don’t really get no stripes for being 18 and messing with a little 13-year-old. You don’t get any positive points in the hood for that. You are really avoided.”
Slaughter told 11 investigates – on camera – in October 2019 that he and the men were like brothers, but they had argued over clothes he stole from Willis. At one point he admitted going to Willis’ house with a gun to kill him. He told us this when he had a chance to take revenge by implicating her in the crime he had committed.
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He later repeated the same story in an affidavit filed with the men’s final appeal.
Willis Family Pastor Daniel Cunningham said he hoped members of Maurice’s family can overcome their pain and realize that there is strong doubt.
“According to God’s word, we must forgive and love one another. I know it’s hard when you feel like someone has wronged you. But if the evidence isn’t there, it isn’t there, ”he said.
Harris said this was just another example of why few in the black community trust the justice system.
“We are told to trust it, but often we see the judicial system fail us.”
The evidence against Braddy and Willis was so scant that after the trial, lead detective Bart Beavers sent a letter to Lucas County Attorney Julia Bates commending her office for the “unthinkable” conviction.
Two different interrogators – one for the court and another who heard the interviews for WTOL – agreed that Slaughter was apparently coerced.
After presenting the evidence in our 2019 investigation to jury foreman Jon Crye, he said he believed Braddy and Willis deserved a new trial. He reiterated in an email to me recently that he is ready to do whatever it takes to bring them to a new trial, saying, “I really wish I knew then what I know now, and I do sorry things went that way. “
Family members and friends recently got together to discuss their hopes for the future.
“I’m mad at the system, but I hope that one day this will happen and he will be free,” said Karla Johnson, Willis’ sister.
Willis’ fiancée Charmaine also expressed hope: “I believe that Julia Bates will, according to God’s will, recognize that there was a mistake in this case.”
On a recent 30-minute phone conversation, Braddy expressed his support and peace for Maurice’s family and his love for Slaughter, whom he called his brother and whom he said he had forgiven him. But he mourned everything he had lost, including several family members.
“When I’m free, my mother won’t be there to hug me. My grandmother won’t be there to hug me. Bubba (Karl), his mother and father, his grandparents, they won’t be there. ” to hug us and tell us we knew you would be free, “he said.
He said he was mostly at peace but was frustrated that he was still in jail.
“There is no evidence of who blamed us – because it doesn’t exist. But there is no evidence of the other way of proving our innocence – because there is no time to prove. “
Willis has always claimed that at the time of the murder he was babysitting his girlfriend and was suffering from allergies and asthma. He said he wasn’t with Braddy or Slaughter.
“I believe with all my heart that Wayne had nothing to do with it,” said Willis. “But I know damn well I had nothing to do with it.”