The Real Problem With Snitches: How Snitch Testimony Leads to Wrongful Convictions

The Karl and Wayne Story

Nikita Srivastava (’19)

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Karl Willis

Honest, kind, and passionate. These are only a few words I can use to describe Karl Willis and Wayne Braddy. Karl is a spiritual man who started a mentoring program called “Leave the Streets Behind.” The goal of this program is to help misguided young adults become healthy and productive citizens. Wayne, on the other hand, is a creative man who performs live music whenever he gets the chance. Both of these men jump at any opportunities to expand their education and help others. Karl and Wayne are warm, humble men who care about their families and communities. They share their joy with their loved ones; they want to help others; but, more importantly, they care about making a difference in their community. Where are they today?

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Wayne Braddy

Karl is currently housed at Allen Correctional Institution in Lima, Ohio, and Wayne is housed at North Central Correctional Complex in Marion, Ohio. Both are serving 23 years to life sentence for a murder they did not commit.

How this happened.

Before dawn, a 13-year-old boy was found dead on Horace Street across from Robinson Junior High School in Toledo, Ohio on June 15, 1998.  The young boy was shot 4 times – once each in the head and chest, and two graze wounds. The victim’s pants pockets were turned out and his shoes were removed, which lead the detectives to believe the perpetrator wanted money and/or drugs. The Toledo police department found the perpetrator through the Crimestopper tip line and brought him in for questioning.

At first, the actual perpetrator denied committing the crime. Even when all the evidence pointed to this man, he continued to deny his involvement. Throughout his interrogation, the perpetrator told different versions of what happened the night of June 15, 1998. After several hours of interrogation, he accidentally implicated himself in this murder. Feeling terrified and scared, the actual perpetrator panicked. When the detectives left the room, the perpetrator did the only thing he could think of – he prayed to God. When the detectives came back, they saw a terrified man on his knees asking God for forgiveness. The detectives resumed their interrogation. The murderer felt pushed into a corner and felt as though he could not escape. He was facing a murder charge for killing a young boy. All the blame was on him. Eventually, the perpetrator gave one final story. A story he knew would shift the blame off him; a story that implicated two innocent men in this aggravated murder and robbery – Karl and Wayne. By snitching on these men, the perpetrator received a generous plea deal which reduced his sentence. The perpetrator testified against Karl and Wayne during their trial and got his reward. To be clear, Karl and Wayne did not know the victim in this case. Also, no physical evidence linked Karl and Wayne to the scene and no other witnesses saw them near Horace Street. There was no DNA evidence, no fingerprints, no other witnesses, and no weapons to link Karl and Wayne to that murder. However, they were still convicted.

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Karl with Charmaine Middlebrooks

Their convictions relied solely on the snitch testimony of the actual perpetrator. Currently, Karl and Wayne are serving a life sentence while the real killer, who is also a convicted child rapist, is now free because of the short sentence he received as a reward for snitching. Karl and Wayne have been incarcerated 19 years for a crime they did not commit.

What really happened.

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Wayne

Karl and Wayne have been as close as brothers since childhood, so close that Wayne even has a tattoo of Karl.  They knew the perpetrator and took care of him while he dealt with his drug problems. However, this friendship with this man did not last. Karl and Wayne found out the perpetrator stole from them which led to a fallout that occurred a month before the incident. The night of the incident, Karl and a friend agreed to watch his sister’s kids. The next morning, Karl heard on the radio about a 13-year-old boy being murdered near Robinson Junior High School. Wayne also heard about the murder from someone else. Neither Karl nor Wayne were near Horace Street that summer night.

Snitch Testimony.

Snitch testimony is the leading cause of wrongful convictions. According to Beyond Unreliable: How Snitches Contribute to Wrongful Convictions by Alexandra Notpoff, 45.9% of wrongful capital convictions are traced to false informant testimony, which makes snitches the leading cause of wrongful convictions in United States Capital cases.

A snitch is someone who can provide main evidence against a defendant in a criminal trial, usually someone who is currently incarcerated and receives an incentive for testifying. The motivations behind snitch testimony are threefold: 1) lighter sentence, 2) reduced charges, and 3) pleasant accommodations while incarcerated.  However, juries considering the evidence in a criminal are unaware of the incentives provided to the snitch in exchange for his or her testimony. In 1987, the Supreme Court recognized in United States v. Cervantes-Pacheeo, “[i]t is difficult to imagine a greater motivation to lie than the inducement of a reduced sentence.” Because of this motivation, snitch testimony has a tendency to contain falsehoods, leading to wrongful convictions.

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Most recent statistics of unreliable sources leading to wrongful convictions.

Many criminal defense attorneys raise this issue with the courts by arguing snitch testimony is unreliable and violates a defendant’s constitutional rights. Furthermore, defense attorneys argue that obtaining and relying on snitch testimony is unethical conduct. The Supreme Court held in United States v. Bagley that “a deliberate effort of the prosecutor to undermine the search for truth clearly is in the category of offenses antithetical to our most basic vision of the role of the state in the criminal process.” [Emphasis added]. However, incentivizing witnesses does not violate prosecutor’s ethical duties. The Court believes defense attorneys have three ways to resolve the reliability issue of snitch testimony: 1) disclosure by the prosecutor under the Jenkins Act, 2) cross-examination of witnesses, and 3) jury instructions. The Jenkins Act requires that prosecutors disclose prior statements made by witnesses, including any statements that conflict with any prior statements. This allows defense attorneys to have effective cross-examinations and write specific jury instructions. However, after providing these tools, snitch testimony is still the largest cause for wrongful convictions in the United States. Although these tools are useful, they are not preventing wrongful convictions.

Solutions.

The Supreme Court of the United States has held in numerous cases that cross-examination, disclosures by the prosecution, and jury instructions are more than enough to effectively attack the credibility of snitch testimony. However, 45.9% of wrongful capital convictions are still caused by snitch testimony. (Clearly, these solutions are not effective enough.) Notpoff argues that more must occur at the pre-trial phase in order to prevent wrongful convictions. For example, courts should assess the credibility of a snitch in a pre-trial hearing in a similar process as it would an expert witness. If the court finds the testimony of the witness not credible, then the witness cannot testify. Unfortunately, this type of pretrial hearing did not occur in Karl and Wayne’s case.

Karl and Wayne’s Innocence Claim.

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Image from UC’s website.

Just one year after Karl and Wayne were convicted, the actual perpetrator recanted his snitch testimony in a sworn affidavit and stated that Karl and Wayne had no involvement with the murder. The perpetrator’s recantation was supported by his girlfriend at the time, who recently came forward admitting that the perpetrator confessed to her that he murdered the young boy by himself. However, the prosecutors have turned a blind eye to his recantation by attacking the credibility of the perpetrator. (If the perpetrator is a habitual liar, then why believe him the first time he implicated Karl and Wayne?).  These are the same prosecutors who secured Karl and Wayne’s conviction in the first place. According to Conviction Review Units, the original prosecutors should not be placed when evaluating claims of actual innocence.

After looking through all the evidence – or lack of evidence – and the recanted testimony, it is clear that Karl and Wayne are innocent and have been wrongfully imprisoned for twenty years.

In May 2017, Karl and Wayne, with help from the Ohio Innocence Project, filed a motion for new trial based on the perpetrator’s recantation and girlfriend’s testimony. The Ohio Innocence Project argued that lack of physical evidence, dishonest snitch testimony, and the supported recantation proves Karl and Wayne’s innocence. However, the court denied this motion. Karl and Wayne have appealed this ruling. Their families, friends, and supporters now await the  appeal decision.

Karl and Wayne’s case highlights the largest issue causing wrongful convictions – snitch testimony. Their case is an example of how one lie, one deal, and one promise can put two passionate, kind, innocent men in prison for life. The solutions offered by the Supreme Court are not enough to prevent wrongful convictions. As future advocates, citizens, and more importantly, as human beings, we need to fight for a change and better solutions. We need to prevent men like Karl and Wayne from going to prison. We need to fight for their innocence and bring them home.

Click here to learn more about the Ohio Innocence Project.

Click here to read more about Karl’s “Leave the Streets Behind”  program: leave-the-streets-behind.

Author: Nikita_Srivastava

Nikita Srivastava is a rising 3L at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. She is a founding member of UC Law Women and Vice President of UC Law's Trial Advocacy Team.  Currently, she is a legal extern for the Indigent Defense Clinic at the Hamilton County Public Defender's Office.

3 thoughts on “The Real Problem With Snitches: How Snitch Testimony Leads to Wrongful Convictions”

  1. This type of injustice happens far too often and too frequent in the Black community. Here are two intelligent, strong, humble, hardworking, and God-fearing young men who only want their freedom. Yes the slow judicial process wants to continue housing them for something they did not do, but also to continue the flow of money into the incarcerating system, instead of to the communities. Let’s educate our children in the schools and not the jails. The individuals involved in the retention and continued obstruction of justice in THIS case must and will be held accountable. It is unheard of that someone who has been hired to work for the people would ignore REAL evidence for 18 years, yes 18 years in an effort to unlawfully and unethically keep our brothers in jail for something they did NOT do. Only in America, yes, only in America. We are praying without ceasing that the slow arm of the law is moved to justice. and felt by the communities’ outrage, as the word filters the media and social waves. No Justice, No Peace. We will have no peace as long as our fellow sons, brothers, fathers, mothers, sisters, loved ones, and friends are denied their inalienable rights. AMEN

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  2. During my visitations, it’s painful to see my nephew Wayne incarcerated. But being locked up under these conditions (false testimony, no physical evidence, and no eye witness) is a tragedy and a crime in itself. Twenty years behind bars and he’s innocent!! I reflect on the quality times Wayne shared with me as a toddler. Even after I moved from Toledo, I would periodically connect with him by phone or on my occasional visits to the city. Wayne had become very close with my wife, children and I as a result of spending two summers with us in his early teenage years. He was a wonderful, intelligent, humorous young man and very skilled with his hands (mechanically and artistically inclined). He is more like a son to us. Now at close to forty years of age, has sacrificed half his life in prison for a wrongful conviction. He isn’t the only one who suffers as a result from being taken away from his people. Through constant prayer and encouragement from family and friends, Wayne has maintained a positive attitude. My wife and I continue to hope and pray that this injustice will be overturned and Wayne Braddy (and Karl Willis) will be released in 2018. We are grateful for the effort and dedication the Ohio Innocence Project is committing to their case. FREE WAYNE BRADDY AND KARL WILLIS!

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