Tyrone’s Current Litigation
Tyrone Noling’s fight to prove his innocence and win a new trial has been a long and difficult road. Despite numerous constitutional errors and compelling evidence of his innocence, Tyrone has not seen success in the state or federal courts. While he has several pieces of litigation pending—aimed at DNA testing, obtaining a new trial to consider the totality of evidence pointing to his innocence, and correcting legal errors in his original trial—his avenues for relief are narrowing.
Newly Discovered Evidence
Investigation into Tyrone’s innocence claim is ongoing. As recently as 2009, Tyrone discovered more evidence suppressed by the State of Ohio that supports his claim that he did not kill the Hartigs. The most significant evidence relates to an alternative suspect, Daniel Wilson, who was executed in June 2009 for the gruesome murder of a woman in Elyria, Ohio in 1991. [link to alternative suspect page] Wilson lived about a mile from the Hartigs at the time of their murders. This newly discovered evidence shows that the Portage County Sheriff’s Department had seriously considered Wilson as the person who killed the Hartigs. A cigarette butt was found at the Hartig home. Rudimentary DNA testing was conducted against Tyrone and his three co-defendants at the time of trial; that testing proves that neither Tyrone nor the other youths smoked the cigarette butt. [link to test results of Tyrone and co-defendants] Unbeknownst to Tyrone and his attorneys, the state also compared that cigarette butt to Daniel Wilson through secretor/non-secretor testing. This test failed to exclude Wilson as the cigarette smoker. [link to Wilson test results] In addition, Tyrone learned of Wilson’s foster brother’s 1990 assertion that his brother killed the Hartigs, [link to Chesley notes] another piece of evidence that went undisclosed to the defense. Tyrone immediately asked the Ohio courts for a new trial and for more sophisticated DNA testing.
Tyrone asked the Portage County trial court to order more-sophisticated DNA testing of cigarette butts found at the Hartig home. [link to Tyrone’s DNA application; state’s opposition; Tyrone’s reply]. His efforts were supported by then-Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and then-Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray. [link to letter from Strickland/ Cordray] The Portage County Prosecutor flatly rejected the request and continues to assert that the cigarette butt is an unimportant piece of evidence despite the fact that this evidence was sufficiently important to test against Tyrone, his three co-defendants, and Daniel Wilson. The trial court ultimately barred Tyrone’s application because his previously submitted application for postconviction DNA testing was denied. Judgment Entry, State v. Noling, 95-CR-220 (Portage C.P. Mar. 28, 2011). [link to trial court opinion]
Tyrone then asked the Ohio Supreme Court to hear his appeal, which that Court accepted unanimously. Briefing was submitted on the issue raised by Tyrone. [link to Tyrone’s Merit Brief; State’s Merit Brief; Tyrone’s Reply due 2.21.2012] The Ohio Supreme Court requested additional briefing on whether conferring jurisdiction on the Ohio Supreme Court for capital litigants whose DNA application was denied by the trial court is constitutional in light of State v. Davis, 131 Ohio St.3d 1, 2011-Ohio-5028. [Tyrone’s Supplemental Merit Brief; State’s Supplemental Merit Brief]
On May 2, 2013, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that Tyrone could file a new postconviction DNA application. The Ohio Supreme Court also ruled that granting jurisdiction to the Ohio Supreme Court to review DNA appeals comported with Ohio’s constitution. The case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. Based on recent advancements in DNA technology, Tyrone asked for DNA testing for other items the perpetrator touched: shell casings from the murder weapon and the empty ring boxes found in the ransacked bedroom of the Hartigs. At the time of trial, the State had tried to obtain fingerprints from these items. Tyrone requested that they be subjected to advanced DNA testing in order to identify the perpetrator. Tyrone also requested that the shell casings be uploaded to the national ballistics database in order to see if the murder weapon is linked to other crimes or a specific perpetrator. Tyrone requested that these items be evaluated and tested by a lab that utilized the advanced technology that enabled labs to obtain results on small samples of DNA. The trial court denied Tyrone’s request to utilize a lab with the most appropriate and advanced technology and denied Tyrone’s request to locate the murder weapon or someone who had used the murder weapon. The trial court, instead, ordered the state lab to evaluate the shell casings and ring boxes and report on the quantity and quality of DNA. However, the state lab did not perform any of the testing necessary to make a scientific determination. The lab simply looked at the evidence and issued a one page report. The trial court also denied Tyrone the results of the DNA testing that did proceed forward.
On August 11, 2014, Noling filed an appeal in the Ohio Supreme Court on the same denial of DNA testing. [link to Memorandum in Support of Jurisdiction of Appellant Tyrone Noling] On September 30, 2015, the Ohio Supreme Court accepted jurisdiction over Mr. Noling’s DNA appeal. The Ohio Supreme Court accepted jurisdiction on the following proposition of law: Ohio Revised Code 2953.73(E)(1) violates both the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution as it: (1) discriminates between capital and non-capital criminal defendants, (2) fails to provide appellate review, and (3) results in the arbitrary and capricious application of the death penalty. Oral argument was held at the Ohio Supreme Court on May 31, 2016. [Merit Brief of Appellant Tyrone Noling; Reply Brief of Appellant Tyrone Noling]
On December 21, 2016, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in State v. Noling that death row prisoners should have the same type of appellate court review of decisions denying DNA testing that other prisoners have [link to Ohio Supreme Court opinion]. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that they would conduct such a review for death row prisoners. That decision allowed Mr. Noling to continue his efforts to secure DNA testing that could exonerate him and lead to the true perpetrator. On January 30, 2017, Mr. Noling filed his Merit Brief at the Ohio Supreme Court asking the Court to ensure that evidence from Mr. Noling’s case is tested using the best and most accurate DNA technology available [Merit Brief of Appellant Tyrone Noling].
New Trial Litigation
Tyrone also asked the Portage County trial court to grant him a new trial based on this evidence and other evidence related to a missing .25 caliber handgun (the type of gun used to kill the Hartigs). [link to Tyrone’s Request for Leave to File New Trial Motion; Instanter New Trial Motion; State’s Opposition; Tyrone’s Reply Brief Part 1; Tyrone’s Reply Brief Part 2] The trial court recognized that this evidence was exculpatory (meaning, it tended to show Tyrone is not guilty). But, the trial court denied Tyrone’s request for a new trial because it believed Tyrone could have found and presented this evidence to the court sooner. Judgment Entry/Order, State v. Noling, No. 95-CR-220, (Portage C.P. Mar. 2, 2011). [link to trial court order]
Tyrone has appealed the trial court’s denial of his request for a new trial to the Eleventh District Court of Appeals. The briefing in this case is complete. [link to Tyrone’s Merit Brief; State’s Merit Brief; Tyrone’s Reply] Tyrone expects oral argument to be scheduled in this case in the near future.
Federal Court Litigation
In addition to these more recent developments, other evidence of Tyrone’s innocence has surfaced in the years since his trial. Tyrone also has litigated multiple constitutional errors in the state courts. Much of the earlier evidence of Noling’s innocence was substantial, including, for example:
- The recantations of his co-defendants, Gary St. Clair, Joey Dalesandro, and Butch Wolcott, who all describe being coerced, threatened, and manipulated into accusing Tyrone of killing the Hartigs [link to false confession page]
- Evidence the Hartigs knew their killer—they were shot while sitting at their kitchen table with the shooter seated across from them [link to crime scene reports].
- No physical evidence linking Tyrone to the Hartig home—his fingerprints weren’t found in the home, no stolen property was linked to him, and the only .25 caliber weapon that he had access to was excluded as the murder weapon [link to gun exclusion report]
- The types of items stolen by Tyrone during two robberies in Alliance, Ohio—watches, jewelry, small electronics, cash—were left untouched at the Hartig home. Mr. Hartig’s wallet was still in his pocket. Mrs. Hartig still wore her rings. Cash was found in the home. And no electronics were identified as missing from the home. [link to crime scene reports]
- Evidence of alternative suspects, including an insurance agent who defaulted on a loan to the Hartigs, and a missing .25 caliber handgun that was one of only four makes and models as the gun used to kill the Hartigs [link to alternative suspects page]
This evidence was presented to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals by way of three limited constitutional errors. However, the federal courts’ ability to correct errors made by the state courts is limited by the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which requires that the state court be more than simply “wrong” in its decision; the state court’s decision must be “unreasonable.” Under this highly deferential standard of review, the Sixth Circuit was clearly troubled by Tyrone’s case, but powerless to act:
Nevertheless, we pause for a moment to highlight our concern about Noling’s death sentence in light of questions raised regarding his prosecution. Noling was not indicted until five years after the Hartigs’ murders when a new local prosecutor took office. The new prosecutor pursued the cold murder case with suspicious vigor according to Noling’s accusers, who have since recanted their stories and now claim that they only identified Noling as the murderer in the first place because they were threatened by the prosecutor. In addition to the identifications being potentially coerced, there is absolutely no physical evidence linking Noling to the murders, and there are other viable suspects that the prosecutor chose not to investigate or did not know of at the time. Furthermore, that St. Clair switched course before trial, deciding not to testify against Noling, gives rise to even more suspicion. This worrisome scenario is not enough to create a constitutional claim cognizable under habeas and the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.
Noling v. Bradshaw, 651 F.3d 573 (6th Cir. 2011). [link to 6th Cir opinion]
Tyrone has requested that the United States Supreme Court address an error in the Sixth Circuit’s interpretation of a Supreme Court case law. Briefing in this matter is complete. [link to Tyrone’s petition for certiorari; Warden’s Opposition; Tyrone’s Reply] Tyrone expects the Supreme Court will decide shortly whether it will hear his appeal.