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Man wrongly imprisoned in murder case wins $13.2 million in civil rights lawsuit

Marvin Fong / The Plain Dealer

David Ayers, center, walks out of the Justice Center as a free man, Monday, Sept. 12, 2011. Ayers, who was serving time for murder, had his charges dropped because of DNA testing that did not trace back to him. Carrie Wood, from the Innocence Project, leads him outside.

A man who spent 11 years in prison on a murder conviction that was later reversed has won a $13.2 million award in a civil rights lawsuit against the city of Cleveland.

A federal jury found Friday that two Cleveland detectives fabricated or withheld evidence in the 2000 trial of David Ayers, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported.

Ayers was convicted of aggravated murder in the Dec. 17, 1999, beating death of Dorothy Brown, a 76-year-old woman who lived in a high-rise run by the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority. Ayers was a resident of the same complex and a security guard for the housing authority, according to court documents.

He was arrested in March 2000 and convicted late that year.

He maintained his innocence, and after the Ohio Innocence Project took up his case in 2008, Ayers got a state appeals court to order the trial judge to allow DNA testing of a single pubic hair found on Brown’s body – the results of which showed the hair did not come from Ayers.

But while the hair was being tested, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed his conviction (read the decision here in PDF), saying the trial judge improperly allowed testimony of a jailhouse informant who said Ayers confessed to killing the victim and stealing money from her.

Ayers was freed in 2011.

One detective settled with Ayers out of court. But in the civil rights trial, the Plain Dealer reported, Ayers’ lawyers said two other detectives, Denise Kovach and Michael Cipo, had tried to frame Ayers because he was gay – despite evidence that Brown had also been sexually assaulted.

According to The Associated Press:

Among the most serious allegations by Ayers against Kovach and Cipo were that the two detectives conspired with each other to fabricate a confession that he never made, coerced a friend of Ayers to lie by saying that Ayers had told him of the murder before Brown's body was discovered, and gave key information about the crime to Ayers' prison cellmate so he could later testify against Ayers about an admission he didn't make.

The detectives had denied any wrongdoing.

After the civil rights verdict, The Plain Dealer reported, the director of Cleveland's law office said the city was "considering our options."

As for Ayers, the newspaper quoted him as saying: "My goal is that it never happens to anyone else ever again."