Cleveland Life Cover Story
June 9, 1999

Unlocking the Truth
by Shelley M. Shockley

Professions of innocence, conflicting witness statements, witnesses never called, evidence kits missing, inept or corrupt police officers, collusion by prosecutors - sounds like a made-for-TV movie?  Wrong.  These are all allegations made in the Feb. 10, 1995 shooting death of Clifton Hudson, 19, of Elyria.

Charged, convicted and serving 15 years-to-life for his murder are Laurese Glover, then 17 now 21, Eugene Johnson, then 18 now 22, and Derrick Wheatt, then 17 now 21.  Johnson and Wheatt were given an additional three-year term because a gun was involved.

All three defendants now reside in Madison Correctional Institute and continue to profess their innocence.

Leading the fight for justice
Cleveland attorney Michael Troy Watson has taken on the case of Derrick Wheatt, calling for a new trial based on the contention that he was denied his constitutional rights to a fair trial.

At the heart of Watson's argument are witnesses who were never called to testify, the inconsistent testimony of the state's sole witness and an overall rush to judgment by East Cleveland police officers.

Watson said that after a protest on behalf of the three men was held by Black on Black 2000 several witnesses came forward and offered testimony which disputes the facts entered into evidence.  Furthermore, Watson said that his investigation has led him to the actual shooter, information which has been passed on to the East Cleveland police department.

The parents of Glover, Johnson and Wheatt each have stated that on different occasions, they and/or their sons were told by Detective Vincent Johnstone and Detective Michael Perry that they knew "the boys didn't do it," but that "somebody had to go down for it [the murder]"

Statements such as these lead to questions of police misconduct, and ineptness.  Watson would only say that there have been many mistakes made, and that from his knowledge of police departments, "they [East Cleveland] have not been considered to be the premiere force in the state of Ohio."

Yet, speaking on behalf of the city, Watson said that Mayor Emmanuel Onunwor "was willing to cooperate to find out whether or not they made a mistake," but before the Mayor's office could facilitate this agreement, a special order came from the County Prosecutor's office stating that all information gathered in the investigation was "to be secreted and held in the care and custody of the county."

This action baffled Watson who said, "You have convicted somebody, you sent them to jail.  The appeal is dead.  Then why can't I look at the file," or at least that the decision should be that of the city of East Cleveland.  He questions, "Where is the idea of justice.  There is supposed to be a search for the truth."

A response from the Prosecutor's office was not available at presstime.

The Shooting
It was a brisk February afternoon and Laurese Glover was proud of his new wheels, a black Chevy Blazer - the craze among all teens and young adults then and now.  Sharing his new joy were his boys - Eugene Johnson and Derrick Wheatt, the three had been friends since about the age of 10 and continued to hang out together.

Glover was driving as Wheatt sat in the passenger's seat and Johnson rode in the backseat.  After picking up a few friends and dropping them off, the teens were headed back to Glover's house when, according to their statements and that of family members, friends and witnesses, they heard gun shots, and then they saw a man lying on the ground at 1706 Strathmore and another man running from the scene.

After witnessing this, they continued on their way - not thinking much of it, shootings were somewhat common place in the neighborhood.

This sense of nanchalance has proven to be the biggest mistake these young men have made in their short lives.

Shortly after the shooting, East Cleveland police officers arrived on the scene.  At the sceneof the shooting was the state's lone witness, Tamika Harris, 14, as well as Starley Johnson, 11, Stephen Johnson, 10, Jaquana Johnson,  Reginald Longino and Kim Johnson, who were never called to testify.

What the witnesses saw
Glover, Eugene Johnson and Wheatt have all stated that they witnessed the shooting as they were heading to Wheatt's house.  A summary of Wheatt's oral statement to Det. Johnstone included, in part, "...while they were operating North bound on Stathmore approaching Manhattan, Laurese stopped for the stop sign.  Prior to pulling off they observed the victim walking down Strathmore toward Manhattan when he was approached by the suspect, who he identified as a young male, tall and slender wearing a dark blue jacket.  He stated that the suspect pulled out what he believed to be a revolver and shot at the victim about five times."

Starley and Stephen Johnson said they witnessed the shooting from the fron window of their Strathmore Ave. home.  Both boys stated they saw a black car pull up and that the driver got out of the car and began a physical struggle with the victim.  The victim wrestled away from the suspect and began running away.  The suspect then reached inside of the car and pulled out a gun and started shooting at him.

Offering conflicting testimony was Harris who witnessed the shooting as she was leaving her girlfriend's aunt's house and heading home.  The evening of the shooting, Harris said that she saw a black 4x4 truck, with tinted windows on the street.  She also stated that she could not identify the shooter because, "I didn't see his face that clear."  She also stated that aside from the driver, she saw someone in the passenger seat.

On Feb. 11, 1995 the day after the shooting, Harris told the police that she saw the shooter run past her to get in the Blazer which had sped down the street and around the corner.  As to the

description of the shooter, she said "He was a black male, about 5' 11", medium complexion, wearing a black hooded sweatshirt that was under his coat whithout the hood up, black pants, and he had a blue jacket that has the feathers in it with a logo on the front of the jacket."  This time she also recalled, "There were two other people in the Blazer."

Lee Malone said that he heard gunshots on the evening of the shooting, just as he was returning home from work.  He lives on Ardenall which is about one street over from Strathmore where the shooting occurred, but his house is near the corner of Manhattan.  As he parked his car on the corner he witnessed a black Blazer coming down Manhattan, with a man running behind the Blazer.  He says that the man running behind the Blazer put something in his pants and then ran up the hill over the railroad tracks.

"At no time did anyone get in the Blazer," Malone said.  He further stated that the man running could not have been one of the accused because he was older, maybe in his late 20's or early 30's.  The shooter also "wore his pants on his waist," said Malone, which he said was not the habit of any of the three accused.

Thugs or Angels
The parents of each of the accused have stated that their sons were not angels, yet they were not bad kids either.  Pat Glover, Laurese's mother, said that the most trouble she had out of him was truancy, "I couldn't keep him in school."

Rosemary Johnson also stated that Eugene was truant, but that he had spent some time in the Hudson Boys Home for "behavioral problems."  Chiming in was Joe Williams, Derrick Wheatt's father who again said his son had never been in any trouble with the law.

Watson did not call the youths angels or good kids, but he said that it is evident that they, and especially his client - Wheatt, were not involved in this shooting.

The Plea Offer
Both Derrick Wheatt and Laurese Glover were offered plea agreements if they testified that Eugene Johnson was the shooter, they both declined.  Glover would have walked away a free man four years ago with no record or anything.  Johnson on the other hand would have possible received probation for his testimony against Glover and Wheatt - he too declined.

Watson says that the offer itself is evidence that something is not right with this case.  He said of the prosecutor's offer, "That never happens unless they know their case stinks."  The fact that they offered one of the defendants possible probation goes to the theory that they "want you to plead to something.  They never want to let a case go without a prosecution."
What's Next
Watson has filed a motion for a new trial on behalf of Derrick Wheatt, which is presently pending before Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.  The other families, who have exhausted their appeals and their funds, are praying that with the help of Black on Black 2000 someone begins to listen to their plight.  They all say their sons were witnesses, and did not commit this crime.

©1999 Cleveland Life
Used with permission