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Protest targets prosecutor, calls for man's exoneration

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Danny Brown, center, pickets with allies at The 329, where Prosecutor Julia Bates was dining. He was imprisoned for a 1981 murder.

The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
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More than a dozen protesters circled in front of a downtown Toledo restaurant where Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates dined Tuesday, calling for her resignation and that she end Danny Brown's battle to clear his name in the murder of a woman nearly 31 years ago.

Stacy Jurich, 26, of Toledo said she and the other protesters followed Mrs. Bates to lunch as she was escorted by Lucas County Sheriff James Telb to The 329, on North Huron Street, "at a safe distance" after a handful of them were asked by court deputies to leave the county courthouse just before noon.

The group -- some of them friends of Mr. Brown, others from Occupy Toledo, and Mr. Brown himself -- yelled for Mrs. Bates to retire and exonerate Mr. Brown, 56. He was released from an Ohio prison in 2001 after DNA belonging to a convicted murderer was found in the victim.

The group started its protest shortly after 11 a.m. in the second floor lobby of the courthouse near the prosecutor's office. It is targeting Mrs. Bates because she has the authority to remove Mr. Brown as a suspect in the Dec. 5, 1981, slaying of Bobbie Russell, 28. She was brutally strangled in her Birmingham Terrace apartment.

Facing a life sentence, Mr. Brown was set free after evidence entered into a state crime database matched the DNA of Sherman Preston, who was convicted in 2000 for the 1983 murder of a woman.

Prosecutors dismissed criminal charges after a judge ordered that Mr. Brown be given a new trial.

Preston, 60, was sentenced in 2000 to 20 years to life for strangling Denise Howell. He has never been charged in Ms. Russell's murder.

Mr. Brown, who has always maintained he was innocent, took and passed a lie-detector test in 2001 for his motion asking for a new trial.

Mrs. Bates has said the DNA evidence that won Mr. Brown's freedom doesn't exonerate him as a suspect because he was never charged with rape. According to testimony at the 1981 trial, the victim was sexually assaulted with a blunt instrument.

She also points to the key testimony of Ms. Russell's then-7-year-old son, Jeffery Russell, that he saw two men in the apartment the night his mother was killed and one of them was Mr. Brown.

The group entered the courthouse individually and met up inside the prosecutor's office. They were removed after they began chanting, "Exonerate now, clear Danny Brown's name."

The protestors brought a cake and many wore party hats -- part of a mock retirement party they threw for Mrs. Bates outside the courthouse Tuesday.

"Enjoy your lunch, Julia," yelled one woman.

Another shouted, "They don't have happy hour in prison."

The protesters never physically confronted Mrs. Bates, leaving the restaurant and circling the courthouse again before disbanding. Mrs. Bates did not return calls for comment.

Staff writers Erica Blake and Mark Reiter contributed to this report.

Contact Taylor Dungjen at: tdungjen@theblade.com, 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @tdungjen_Blade.


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