Convicted of felony drug charges in Lucas County Common Pleas Court, Edward L. Turner was looking at going to prison, probably for the rest of his life.
Instead, Mr. Turner, 58, boarded a Greyhound bus in downtown Toledo yesterday and went home to Chicago. An out-of-work security guard, Mr. Turner, who had spent nearly seven months in the county jail, was freed after prosecutors dismissed the felony drug charges that a jury found him guilty of last month.
Scheduled for sentencing on Jan. 2, he was facing a possible 40-year prison sentence from Judge Ronald Bowman.
“That is really something. I don't know how they could lock me up for that long,” Mr. Turner said. “I felt like I was looking at death. I didn't have that much time.”
Mr. Turner and another Chicago man were arrested May 25 after Ohio Highway Patrol troopers found an estimated $200,000 worth of cocaine in their rental car. They were stopped on the Ohio Turnpike, west of the Toledo Express Airport exit, for speeding.
He was released in the wake of an enhanced videotape that indicated he wasn't lying when he said he didn't know cocaine and crack cocaine were hidden in a shoebox, which troopers found in the trunk of the car.
Prosecutors had the tape analyzed so that an inaudible conversation between the two men could be heard.
“Mr. Turner, now you know the system really works,” Judge Bowman said after he dismissed the two charges, each carrying an additional 10 years for major drug offense specifications.
Harry J. Genous, 24, the co-defendant in the case, is scheduled for trial Jan. 2. He posted a $100,000 bond and was released from jail.
A camera inside the trooper's car recorded on videotape the search of the car, driven by Mr. Genous, as well as the conversation between him and Mr. Turner after they were arrested and placed in the patrol car. However, portions of the conversation were inaudible because of traffic noise, including Mr. Turner asking his traveling companion about the contents of the shoebox.
Troopers found 3.4 pounds of powdered cocaine and three quarters of a pound of crack cocaine in the trunk after Mr. Genous, in whose name the car was rented, consented to the search.
Dean Mandross, head of the criminal division in the prosecutor's office, said the enhanced videotape coupled with Mr. Turner passing a polygraph test indicated he didn't know they were carrying drugs. In addition, prosecutors questioned the relationship between the two men after family members paid Mr. Genous' bond and hired his attorney, while Mr. Turner's bond was not posted and he relied on a public defender.
“All these things put together caused us to question whether he really had any culpability in this case,” Mr. Mandross said, adding that Mr. Turner has agreed to testify at Mr. Genous' trial.
Though polygraph tests have led to charges being dismissed in the past, county Prosecutor Julia Bates said it is rare that a case is dismissed after winning a conviction in a jury trial. “Our job is not to get convictions, it is to do justice. Sometimes justice is not getting convictions. The job is to analyze the case, analyze the facts, weigh the evidence, and do what is right,” she said.
Jack Viren, Jr., the court-appointed attorney for Mr. Turner, said the jury returned with guilty verdicts, in part, based on what they heard in the videotape, which they requested to review during their deliberations. “I find it incredible in the positive sense. Even after he was convicted, based on what the prosecutor's office found on the videotape, they took the necessary steps so that an innocent man would not go to prison,” he said.
Mr. Viren bought the bus ticket for Mr. Turner so he could return to Chicago.
Mr. Turner, sitting in the bus station surrounded by his belongings in plastic bags, recalled hoping to persuade the jury of his innocence by taking the witness stand. He discussed the emptiness he felt when the jury verdicts were read. He said each “guilty” made his heart sink deeper and deeper.
“Each time they said it, I went further and further out. It really hurt me each time they said, `Guilty, '” he said.
Mr. Turner said he met Mr. Genous last year in Chicago when he was coaching a team in a night-time basketball league. He said Mr. Genous, one his former players, was driving to the Akron area, and he accompanied him, with the intention of seeing a friend who lives in the area.
Mr. Turner, a former semi-professional basketball player, said he still has doubts about whether the judicial system always works. “If they can prove someone guilty, they should be able to prove someone innocent,” he said. “Instead, if they can't prove someone innocent, then they must be guilty.”