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March 22, 2013

Jury awards $13 million to gay man wrongly imprisoned

Cleveland--A gay man, exonerated in 2011 after being imprisoned 11 years for the murder of an elderly woman, won a $13 million award from a federal jury.

David Ayers was working as a security guard for the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority in 1999 when Dorothy Brown, 76, was found in a pool of blood, beaten to death in her apartment. She was naked from the waist down, her blouse had been pulled up, and there were pubic hairs in her mouth.

Police, however, believed Ayers did it; he had been in the apartment earlier in the evening after receiving a call from Brown saying she had fallen and could not get herself up off of the floor. Ayers got a key for the apartment from a lock box under camera surveillance and helped her.

Now-retired Cleveland detectives Denise Kovach and Michael Cipo said during Ayers’ trial that there was no footage of him going to the lock box to get the key to Brown’s apartment. The detectives accused Ayers of lying about the footage. They also said a “jailhouse snitch” got him to implicate himself in the crime, although Ayers said he never spoke to the informant about it. An appellate court ruled that the informant’s testimony was inadmissible, since he was working with police and Ayers should have been allowed to have his attorney present.

In 2008, his case came to the attention of the Ohio Innocence Project, and DNA testing on the pubic hairs proved they were not from Ayers. Investigators blamed them on the messiness in Brown’s apartment.

Despite knowing that he was unlikely to have sexually assaulted Brown, Kovach and Cipo were accused of doing everything in their power to railroad him, and jurors noted that during deliberations in the civil rights case.

Ayers, now 56, served 11 years for the murder, and his attorneys pointed to police reports in which Kovach said that he and his friends “appeared very ‘gay’ like.” She wrote that one of his friends “dressed and sat like a gay male. Note: DAVID AYRES [sic] give quite an impression of also being gay.”

Ayers’ lawsuit notes that they “had no reason to suspect Mr. Ayers of having murdered Ms. Brown. Mr. Ayers was innocent and had nothing to do with the crime. Moreover, as a gay man, Mr. Ayers did not fit the profile of the killer in the case, given the obvious sexual nature in which the victim had been attacked.”

Ayers was represented by Loevy and Loevy, a civil rights law firm. They believe that the $13.2 million jury award is the largest LGBT-related civil rights award in the country’s history.

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