Friday, July 23, 2004

Prosecutor unswayed by Innocence Project

UC students: Man not crash driver

By Sharon Coolidge
Enquirer staff writer

Four months after a group of University of Cincinnati students said they had evidence to prove a man convicted of killing his best friend in a car accident was really the passenger, prosecutors say the students' arguments have no merit.

In a motion filed Thursday in Stark County Common Pleas Court, the county where the accident happened, Stark County Prosecutor John Ferrero said assertions made by the students do not support Christopher Bennett's claim of innocence.

"Bennett conveniently ignores the evidence of his guilt while searching for that once piece of evidence that will exonerate him," Ferrero wrote. "Bennett has also conveniently fashioned his theories to conform to the evidence, even if imperfectly."

Ferrero has asked Stark County Common Pleas Judge Lee Sinclair to dismiss Bennett's request for release.

The students, part of the Innocence Project, based at University of Cincinnati's law school, aren't giving up their fight. The motion has only motivated them more.

They say blood, hair and a witness statement prove Bennett is innocent.

"They delayed for four months while an innocent person sat in prison," said Mark Godsey, the project's adviser. "They said they had evidence and experts looking at the case. Then, this is all we got - no evidence and no experts."

It's up to the judge what happens next. Prosecutors hope Sinclair will dismiss the innocence claim and Bennett will complete his nine-year prison term. The students hope the judge sides with their argument and releases Bennett.

Sinclair could not be reached for comment.

As the two sides make their arguments, Bennett, 27, remains in prison.

It has been more than two years since the accident in which 42-year-old Ronald Young was killed.

Prosecutors have said that Bennett was driving and found a witness to confirm it. Bennett, who says he was unable to remember what happened, pleaded guilty to four charges including aggravated vehicular homicide in exchange for a nine-year prison term.

Then Bennett said he started remembering. That's when he contacted the Innocence Project.

Students tracked down the van, had DNA testing done on blood found inside the van and hired an accident reconstructionist.

Here's some of what they found: A small cluster of hair still attached to a piece of scalp that was found within the defroster vent on the passenger side, which testing showed belonged to Bennett; Young had chest injuries consistent with being hit by an air bag, which was only on the driver's side; Bennett suffered a head injury consistent with his head striking the windshield.

Ferrero could not be reached for comment, but in the motion, he writes, "at its heart, this case is about the apparent inability of Bennett to accept responsibility for the death of Ron Young. He continues to concoct conflicting and preposterous stories consistent with his protestations of innocence.


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