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Ohio man released from prison, still fighting to clear name

EUCLID — David Rawls was a state prisoner since 1997, convicted of a crime he says he did not commit.

On Aug. 24, after maintaining his innocence since the beginning, Rawls was paroled from prison.

The Norwalk Reflector wrote a three-part series detailing Rawls’ case in January, which was later carried by the Herald-Star and other Ohio newspapers.

After spending 23 years in prison, he’s now a free man.

“It’s been a hard adjustment,” he said. “It’s beautiful to be home.”

Rawls is working with the Ohio Innocence Project to clear his name. Since being in prison, he was continuously denied parole until now.

Accused

Rawls was convicted of a 1996 robbery at a Marc’s Discount Drug Store in Euclid and charged with aggravated robbery and kidnapping.

Despite being released, Rawls does not see his fight as over — his goal is to clear his name.

Police and prosecutors say Rawls robbed the store in June 1996. Two store employees were bound with shirts, leading to the kidnapping charge, and the assailant ran off with almost $8,000.

The primary evidence against Rawls was the employees picking him from a photo lineup.

In July 2019, Rawls filed a public records request regarding any fingerprint evidence in his case. To date, it has never been ruled on and any fingerprint evidence the state might have has not been provided.

Now released, Rawls’ attorney with the Ohio Innocence Project, Donald Caster, filed a new public records request for any forensic testing pertaining to the robbery.

Caster previously told the Reflector he believes fingerprint evidence was collected from the crime scene.

Despite there being journal entries of latent fingerprints being collected by police at the scene and of victims, these fingerprints did not appear in court and were not handed over to Rawls attorneys prior to his trial.

“Usually you would take (fingerprints) for exclusion purposes, to compare them against the ones that you find, to eliminate the victim’s prints,” Caster said. “(That’s not commonly done) unless you have prints from a crime scene. We think it’s possible there were fingerprints collected.”

For Rawls, the importance of this evidence is critical.

“It’s something that should have been brought to trial,” he said. “The fingerprints alone is a knockout punch because it’s protocol and procedure from Day 1 when you go to any crime scene, period.”

Wrongfully convicted

He said once this report is public and he can show that the officers did take fingerprints for analysis, after telling the grand jury they didn’t, it will clear his name.

“I’ll have peace of mind when I have that. I have a right to it,” Rawls said. “The forensics tell the truth.”

He said he felt like he was going to be left to die in prison considering a judge would not rule on his records request after having new evidence.

If offered, Rawls said he doesn’t want to make a deal.

“I’m going to clear my name. You lose a lot, you try to do good and they take it away from you,” he said. “I don’t hate anyone but they’ve got to be held accountable, that’s just how it is.”

He said the principle of the matter is, people ignored that he was wrongly convicted, something he says the forensic reports will prove.

“You knew about it and you just ignored it. You just let a black man sit in jail,” Rawls said.

Even though he’s released, Rawls is still on parole and has to report to a parole officer.

“I should be able to move like I want to move,” he said. “When you break the law, you have to be held accountable and when you let a man sit for 23 years, something has to be done here.”

Being released has been overwhelming, Rawls said, and it feels like he’s starting all over.

“I’m just trying to take it day by day,” he said.

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