Prosecutor dismisses charges after Ohio man serves 21 years in prison
There was no physical evidence linking Ralph Blaine Smith to the armed robbery, which a police officer on the scene wasn't sure had even happened
Ralph Blaine Smith was freed from an Ohio prison in July after serving 21 years for a crime that may never have occurred. On Wednesday, the Fairfield County prosecutor’s office dropped all charges rather than pursue a second trial.
Smith, 46, spent 21 years of a 67-year sentence behind bars after being convicted of multiple counts of aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, and kidnapping, the Columbus Dispatch reports.
He was accused of being one of two Black men involved in a home invasion robbery in February 2000. A couple and their children were home at the time. The suspects reportedly made off with a collection of rare comic books and around $10K in cash that was stored in a safe.
There was no physical evidence linking Smith to the crime. The prosecution’s case was solely based on Smith being identified by the adult victims in a photo lineup. In June, Fairfield County Common Pleas Judge Richard E. Berens ruled that prosecutors at the time had evidence suggesting the robbery may not have happened at all. Per The Dispatch, a police officer at the scene believed that the story the alleged victims told wasn’t credible but that evidence was withheld at Smith’s trial.
Smith was granted a new trial and was released from prison on bond on July 2. He was fitted with an ankle monitor and has since been living with his family in Columbus. On Wednesday, current Fairfield County Prosecutor Kyle Witt dismissed all charges in the case “without prejudice,” meaning the office can file them again in the future.
“The chances of that happening are very, very unlikely,” Witt said Wednesday. “Twenty years have passed already… We put that language in there because we can’t predict the future, but I don’t see (the refiling of charges) happening.”
Smith had his ankle monitor removed by a probation officer in response to the decision.
“There are no words to describe how happy I am,” Smith said in a phone interview with The Dispatch.”I finally got this nightmare over with. I got my life back.”
“If we were to retry this case now, even if we got a conviction, I do not think we would be seeking a sentence in excess of time already served,” Witt said. “I don’t think that’s a prudent use of our taxpayer resources, the time and talents of our staff, to relitigate a case where he’s already served a sentence of this length.”
A GoFundMe was launched last year to cover Smith’s legal fees.
On the page, Smith provided more details about how the case was mounted against him that would allow for questions about his guilt.
Smith wrote, “The prosecution also withheld video recording, audio recordings, 911 call, police reports and other documents that should have been turned over to my trial attorney Terry Sherman and I. This evidence would have proved I was innocent 20 years ago and that I should have never been arrested.”
Smith and his lawyers are considering suing for compensation, but because the charges were dismissed as opposed to a new trial proving his innocence, they may be restricted by state law in collecting any financial award.
Witt makes clear that he did not dismiss the charges based on the belief that Smith is innocent.
“Ultimately, this case, then and now, was going to hinge on the testimony of the two people that were in the house that night,” he said. “And they have been steadfast all these years in saying that this happened and their ID was an accurate one…I’m inclined to believe them.”
The items and cash were never recovered.
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