On Tuesday, Joseph Fears, Jr., walked out of an Ohio courthouse a free man for the first time in more than a quarter-century. DNA testing proved that he was wrongfully convicted of a sexual assault in 1984 and a judge officially cleared Fears. He joined family members for a celebratory first meal in freedom and will now begin the arduous process of building a new life in a changed world.
Fears’ case was reviewed as part of a joint project between the Ohio Innocence Project and the Columbus Dispatch newspaper, but the investigation was stalled when prosecutors said they couldn’t find his evidence. Fears’ luck changed, however, when Ohio Innocence Project client
was exonerated in Fears’ county in 2008. Franklin County prosecutor Ron O'Brien said the McClendon case left an impact on him, and he ordered a thorough review of all stored evidence. The review turned up evidence from Fears’ conviction, and O’Brien immediately ordered testing.
Fears is the 234th person exonerated by DNA testing nationwide, and the eighth in Ohio.
Learn more about exonerations in your state here
On the heels of the exonerations of McClendon and Fears, Ohio lawmakers are considering wide-ranging reforms to prevent injustice in the state. State Sen. David Goodman
introduced a bill yesterday
seeking improved access to DNA testing, a requirement to record all interrogations and reforms to eyewitness identification procedures.