Appeals Court Orders New Trial for Octavius Williams in Attempted Murder Case His Brother Has Since Confessed To

Granted a judicial release but not fully exonerated despite the recommendation of the county's Conviction Integrity Unit, Williams has long sought a chance to officially clear his name

click to enlarge Appeals Court Orders New Trial for Octavius Williams in Attempted Murder Case His Brother Has Since Confessed To
Emanuel Wallace

Octavius Williams, the 27-year-old Clevelander accused and convicted of attempted murder in 2011, this week took another step in the journey to clear his name.

Eighth District Appellate Court Judges Eileen Gallagher, Lisa Forbes and Kathleen Ann Keough on Thursday issued a ruling overturning the conviction and remanding the case back to Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, reversing a decision that denied Williams the chance at a new trial.

Williams was previously granted a judicial release but not fully exonerated despite the recommendation of the county's Conviction Integrity Unit, which investigated his case. He appealed to the Eighth District for a new trial.

The bulk of reasoning behind the judges' decision seems to stem from Williams' brother Ricky's owning up to the crime himself, through a series of written and oral statements to police in the mid-2000s.

It's exactly what the trio of district judges weighed on during oral arguments at Case Western in October.

"The confessions are consistent with evidence presented at trial," an opinion filed Thursday in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas read. "These confessions amount to newly discovered evidence, and the court erred by denying the defendant's motion for a new trial."

On November 1, 2010, dozens of people gathered at Ardy Williams' home in Union-Miles for a Halloween party. Octavius, who was 17 and went by Tay-Tay at the time, was present, along with his brother Ricky. A fight broke out. Shots were fired between rivaling parties. A little after midnight, Dennis Cole was shot.

Following a five-day trial, a jury convicted Octavius of attempted murder. Judge Deena Calabrese sentenced him to 15 years in prison, a sentence that leaned heavily on the following: police, after hearing Cole's description of his shooter, found Octavius the best suspect.

He would spend the next 3,091 days incarcerated before the CIU investigated his case and, in a compromise reached between the prosecutor's office and his defense team, granted judicial release and placed on probation.

While he's been free since then, he is still a felon: Prosecutor Mike O'Malley didn't believe Octavius was actually innocent, but felt there were enough questions that he should no longer be in jail.

"You've got to use your human intuition and life experience to come up with the best decisions," O'Malley told Scene in 2020. "What is justice in this case? I think in this particular case, we did the best we could. I think we did what was right."

Arguments favoring a new day in court revolved mostly around what was considered "new" evidence, October's arguments at Case Western's School of Law showed. Is Ricky's confession a decade ago outdated? Did Cole's blood-alcohol content at the time matter? Should Ricky have given proper testimony?

"The core argument here is: Does every confession mean a new trial?" a Cuyahoga County assistant prosecutor said during the hearing. "The question for this court was whether or not the trial court decision was reasonably based on the facts of this case."

Judge Gallagher scrutinized the notion: "It all goes back to what Ricky knew at the time, what he says happened at the time, and what the main people say happened at the time," she told prosecutor. "Is it new, or is it just available to us now?"

O'Malley will now decide whether to retry the case. If he doesn't, the verdict will remain vacated.

Not only would either remove the felon tag from his record, but it would open the possibility of Williams seeking compensation from the state for being wrongfully convicted.

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Mark Oprea

Mark Oprea is a staff writer at Scene. For the past seven years, he's covered Cleveland as a freelance journalist, and has contributed to TIME, NPR, the Pacific Standard and the Cleveland Magazine. He's the winner of two Press Club awards.
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