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A refusal to prosecute?

Published: Friday, February 24, 2017 @ 5:25 PM
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Andrea Davis will likely never see any justice for her mother's brutal murder in 2006. 

"We've just been patiently waiting, having faith in our justice system," said Davis.  

Her mother, Elizabeth, was shot and killed in her Dayton home.  

"We had the believed killer's fingerprints in the house," said retired Dayton homicide Detective Dan Hall. 

Her friend, Felicia Goodson, ran next door for help. 

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"When she beat on the door and pleaded for someone to help her, he got up on the porch and shot and killed her," said Hall. "We had his fingerprints at that scene." 

Detective Hall arrested the suspect, identified as Velis Nelson. Hall went to the Montgomery County Prosecutor's Office to try and get a murder charge on Nelson. 

"It was presented and refused by a 3-prosecutor panel," said Hall.   

Every detective in Montgomery County investigating a violent crime has to come to the Montgomery County Prosecutor's Office to present their evidence to a panel of three prosecutors. It's that panel that decides if the case moves forward to a Montgomery County Grand Jury for a possible indictment on charges, or a no true bill, which means no charges. 

In the Davis-Goodson murders, at the time of Nelson's arrest, the case didn't go to a grand jury.

"I didn't really realize how much we didn't know," said Andrea Davis.  

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The case was idle for nine years, until 2015, when a cold case detective took the evidence back to prosecutors and a grand jury heard the case. The grand jury did not issue an indictment. The Davis and Goodson families were devastated.

Velis Nelson was a free man for a second time. One week later, Nelson was arrested in the shooting death of his cousin and later committed suicide in an Indiana jail. 

Davis felt if a grand jury had heard the case much sooner, near the time of Nelson's first arrest, when witnesses memories were more fresh, the outcome would have been different.

"It takes away the trust that I have in our system," Davis said. 

Now retired Dayton Police homicide Sgt. Gary White has worked on more murder cases in 20 years than anyone in Montgomery County. He said the 3-prosecutor panel works some of the time, but too often the panel is a roadblock to justice. 

"Are you confident that there are killers, murderers walking around Montgomery County today who should be in prison?" I asked. "Yes, without a doubt," answered White.

In the late 1990's, Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck announced, "No criminal charges can be brought with the evidence available at this time." Heck was referring to the suffocation deaths of four children, all members of the Moreland family. 

Sgt. White and Det. Hall both said there was strong evidence in the case, including a partial confession from one of the older juvenile children in the family. They said that one person had access and was present at all four scenes.

"In my opinion, and in a lot of peoples' opinions, there was enough to take to a grand jury," said White. "The case was denied at a prosecutor panel." 

The four child deaths remain unsolved today. 

The unsolved murder of one of their own, haunts them too. In November, 1999, Dayton Police Officer Kevin Brame was shot and killed outside his estranged wife's home after returning their children to her house. 

Detective Hall said he is disappointed that no one has ever been charged in Brame's death. 

"I've struggled and fought with the prosecutors office to let a grand jury hear their testimony and was confident we had enough for an indictment. It needed to be tried in Montgomery County," said Hall. 

"I spent three years of my life working on that case, that case alone," said Hall. I asked Hall if he felt confident about who did this, he answered, "Yes, I know who the contractor is." 

Hall went on to say the longer cases like these languish, witnesses die, get killed in other crimes, or get frustrated when nothing has been done.

Hall added, "As a case proceeds through the court, it can get better when citizens see someone is in jail and they are more willing to help out. When they don't see that, they aren't going to help, they get scared." Hall also said suspects get more confident they may have gotten away with something.

I sat down with the Montgomery County Prosecutor Mathias Heck and Leon Daidone, Heck's lead prosecutor in the Violent Crimes Division.

Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck said there are respectful disagreements between his office and detectives, but they will always work to find common ground. He said he was surprised to hear criticism from the former detectives about trouble getting cases past his prosecutor panel and in front of a grand jury. 

"Give me the case. Tell me a case that we've had here in the last week, the week before," Heck said. 

In December 2016, Gregory Moses of Trotwood was shot and killed at a home on Haney Road in Harrison Township. 

Soon after, detectives arrested Deandre Dixon, who had been out of prison three years for shooting another man that survived. The new homicide case was presented to a 3-prosecutor panel but charges were refused and Dixon was released from jail. 

According to a statement emailed to me from Heck's office on February 23, 2017, Prosecutor Lynda Dodd stated "This was a homicide that occurred on December 3, 2016. The reporter's information you have is incorrect. Just two days after the crime, on December 5, 2016, a three prosecutor panel met with investigators and provided them with an extensive, detailed list of additional investigation that needs to be completed before a decision can be made. This case remains a pending and active investigation."

Shortly after this newsroom received the above email statement, Dixon was arrested again and charged with the murder of Gregory Moses.

I asked Heck for his reaction to Sgt. White and Det. Hall's statement that violent criminals are being sent back in to the community because of 3-prosecutor panel not approving charges. 

Heck said, "I've not seen that. We and my prosecutors take this job very seriously and they work with these officers everyday. We are always willing to sit down and talk to them to see if there is a better way of doing it." However, Heck said detectives cannot bypass the panel.

"The purpose of the prosecutor is not to just convict someone," Heck said. "The purpose is to do justice and make sure we have the evidence so we can charge that person with the highest degree the evidence supports and that we have the right person charged." 

Sgt. White said the frustration over 3-prosecutor panel refusals got so bad in 2006, he received approval from his Chief at the time to conduct a survey of all 26 police agencies in Montgomery County. White said 22 responded they too were dissatisfied and had similar stalled cases. White said 15 police chiefs in Montgomery County agreed to take part in a secret meeting at Dayton's Police Academy in 2006 to discuss the issue.

White said Heck was confronted by some of the Chief's and changes did take place, but for only about one year.

I asked Heck if he recalled being contacted by Chiefs in 2006 and he said he did not recall. 

Andrea Davis still questions why evidence in murder cases can't go straight to a jury jury like in other Ohio counties.

"There should be nothing in between a crime being committed and the grand jury," said Davis. "Let them do their job."