A Toledo man who has been in prison for 35 years for a murder he says he didn’t commit was granted parole by the Ohio Parole Board on Thursday.
Michael Ustaszewski, 53, was convicted by a jury in Lucas County Common Pleas Court of aggravated murder in the 1977 stabbing death of Henry B. Cordle, 74, at the downtown YMCA.
Michael Morris, a co-defendant who remains in prison, testified the two of them went to Mr. Cordle’s room to rob him but that Ustaszewski then stabbed him. Ustaszewski claimed he was not even at the YMCA at the time of the attack.
Richard Ustaszewski of Monroe said he felt his younger brother had been wrongly convicted following “a shabby trial.”
“I feel sorry for Mr. Cordle. It’s sad, but man if you’re going to do something, don’t take someone down with you,” he said. “He wasn’t there. He had nothing to do with it.”
JoEllen Smith, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said Ustaszewski would be released from Marion Correctional Institution on April 22, assuming his plans for housing and placement are approved by then.
The board, she said, cited Ustaszewski’s “assessed low risk, appropriate programming to address his risk, positive institutional adjustment, and supportive release plan” in granting parole.
He previously had been denied parole at seven hearings since 1992 when he first became eligible, and some felt his refusal to admit to the crime played a part in the parole board’s prior decisions to keep him in prison.
Melissa Sheridan Embser-Herbert, an advocate for Ustaszewski who launched the Web site, justice-for-michael.blogspot.com, traveled to Columbus from Minnesota to testify at the hearing.
“I’m thrilled for Michael and his family, and I am so thankful that the parole board made the right decision,” she said afterward.
During a prison interview in Marion with The Blade recently, Ustaszewski said he was hopeful about the hearing.
“It’s frustrating sometimes. You can’t actually fight your case again,” Ustaszewski said. “The only thing you can do is show reasonable doubt that you could actually be innocent. … I just want a fair shot. That’s all I’m asking for.”
Ian English, an assistant Lucas County prosecutor who reviewed the case, voiced his objections to Ustaszewski’s release in person at the hearing.
He said he found nothing in the case file to put Ustaszewski’s conviction in doubt.
The parole board, he said Thursday, “had all the evidence. They reached their decision. I pray it’s the right one.”
While state statistics indicate inmates convicted of aggravated murder have been paroled in the last decade after serving 25 to 27 years, Mr. English said in his mind the 35 years Ustaszewski has served isn’t enough.
“When you murder someone, you should spend your life in prison. Period,” he said. “Thirty-five years is a long time for Michael, but the victim is dead forever. He doesn’t come back and start enjoying his life, enjoying his grandchildren, hanging out with his great-grandchildren.”
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: email@example.com, or 419-213-2134.