Freed Ohio death row inmate savors sunrise, pizza

Associated Press Modified: September 7, 2012 at 2:17 pm •  Published: September 7, 2012

CLEVELAND (AP) — A murder defendant freed after spending nearly 25 years on death row in a botched prosecution had a chance to watch an unobstructed sunrise Friday — and then plan a family reunion.

Michael Keenan, 62, also savored a pizza as his first meal out of prison but looked "weathered, old, white-haired. He needs some sun," his brother, Marty Keenan, said.

Michael Keenan was freed Thursday evening after a judge dismissed the murder charge against him in the 1988 throat-slashing death of a man found dead in a brook in a Cleveland park.

It was the second reversal for a defendant in the case. Joe D'Ambrosio, who was tried separately, was freed in 2010 by a judge who determined prosecutors withheld evidence that could have exonerated him.

A Roman Catholic priest who lobbies against the death penalty, the Rev. Neil Kookoothe, befriended D'Ambrosio and began looking into the case, stumbling on information suggesting another man had a motive.

The case highlighted a win-all tactic by prosecutors of indicting people on serious charges to wrangle a guilty plea from defendants trying to avoid long prison terms, Kookoothe said.

"Somewhere, truth got taken out of the system, and justice got taken out of the system," he said Friday. "It became a sport of where we like to see who can we convict."

In Keenan's case, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John Russo said the withheld evidence would have helped Keenan's defense. The harm done by the state's failure to disclose the evidence "cannot be resolved by a new trial," he said.

Keenan, a landscaper, was convicted twice of killing Tony Klann, 19, in a dispute that may have been over missing drugs. His first conviction was overturned after the Ohio Supreme Court determined prosecutorial misconduct, but he was convicted again in 1994, defense attorney John Hildebrand said.

Prosecutors, who have steadfastly defended the handling of the case, said the latest decision would be appealed. Assistant Prosecutor Richard Bell said Keenan could have received a fair retrial.

"We were prepared to prove for the third time that Keenan and his employees murdered Tony Klann," Bell said.

The information various courts have said should have been disclosed to the defense includes a possible murder motive for another man facing a rape case in which Klann was a key witness.

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