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Published: Wednesday, 7/9/2003

Paperwork glitch sets arsonist free during appeal

BY KIM BATES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Benjamin Greeno is a free man again.

After being taken into custody June 17 based on his conviction for a fatal fire, Greeno, 25, was released from jail yesterday because of a paperwork glitch through the 3rd District Court of Appeals in Lima, Ohio.

Judge Michael Kelbley of Seneca County Common Pleas Court released Greeno - whom prosecutors believed had lost his appeal with the Lima court last month - after learning that a document released by the appellate court was not the final ruling in Greeno's case.

The draft decision was never stamped and certified at the county clerk of court's office. But separate copies were sent to the prosecutor and defense attorney, and the prosecutor acted immediately by seeking an arrest warrant.

“This is totally unprecedented,” Greeno's attorney, Gene Murray, said of the mix-up. “This has never happened in my practice [of law] before.”

After learning about the error, Mr. Murray petitioned Judge Kelbley to release Greeno, who had made a deal with prosecutors that allowed him to remain on a personal recognizance bond while his appeal was heard by the appellate court.

Greeno of Fostoria pleaded no contest in November to two counts of involuntary manslaughter and single counts of inducing panic and possession of crack cocaine. He also was convicted of criminal damaging or endangering, a first-degree misdemeanor.

Judge Kelbley sentenced Greeno to nine years in prison for his involvement in the fire at a Fostoria rooming house, which claimed two lives.

Mr. Murray in December filed an appeal, claiming Greeno's rights were violated when Judge Kelbley allowed into evidence a taped interview of Greeno by investigators.

Gregory Miller, court administrator at the 3rd District Court of Appeals, said yesterday that the mistake was unusual for the court. But he said a draft copy - not the court's final ruling - was inadvertently sent out. He said court officials quickly discovered their error and contacted the clerk's office, telling them not to stamp the draft.

Mr. Miller said the case is expected to be decided in the next week or so, with a ruling released then.

Mr. Murray said yesterday he originally was told the court needed to correct a typographical error in the document, so his client was taken to the Seneca County jail - instead of prison. The defense attorney said he later learned it wasn't the correct decision at all.

If the court affirms the judge's decision, Mr. Murray said he intends to appeal the case to the Ohio Supreme Court. He said he'll base his appeal on the taped interview.

County Prosecutor Ken Egbert could not be reached for comment last night.



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