CLEVELAND - A man sentenced to death in the throat-slashing murder of a 19-year-old in 1988 must get a new trial or be released from prison, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge Kathleen O'Malley ruled Friday that prosecutors failed to tell lawyers for Joe D'Ambrosio about several pieces of evidence that could have helped exonerate him in the murder of Tony Klann.
She ordered the state to either retry D'Ambrosio or release him within six months.
When Klann's body was found in Doan Brook in Cleveland his throat had been slashed, his windpipe was punctured and there were three slashes on his chest.
Based on information from witness Paul Lewis, police arrested D'Ambrosio and two co-workers at a landscaping company.
Michael Keenan also was convicted and sentenced to death in the case. Eddie Espinoza served 12 years on a guilty plea to voluntary manslaughter and testified against the other two.
The three were looking for Lewis and believed Klann knew where he was, according to court testimony.
Police later learned that Klann had been subpoenaed to testified against Lewis, who had been accused of raping Klann's roommate.
Attorney Ralph DeFranco, who represented D'Ambrosio during the 1989 murder trial, testified that prosecutors never told him about the rape allegation.
In O'Malley's ruling, she says that an assistant prosecutor was obligated to tell DeFranco about the rape case and failed to do so. After D'Ambrosio was charged, the rape indictment was dropped.
"Had the defense been in possession of the information regarding Lewis, they could have developed an entirely different strategy of defense, sowing the seeds of reasonable doubt ... by focusing on Lewis' motive to get rid of Klann," the judge writes in her decision.
She also says that prosecutors should have told D'Ambrosio's lawyers detectives believed Klann was killed in one place and his body dumped in the creek.
During his testimony, Espinoza said Keenan slit Klann's throat and pushed him into the creek and that, when Klann tried to run, D'Ambrosio chased him down and killed him.