Published on: Tuesday, August 24, 2021

An Ohio death-row inmate, who discovered after his trial that the prosecutor withheld evidence that could’ve helped him impeach the state’s star witness, failed to convince the Sixth Circuit that his constitutional rights were violated (article available here).

Although the evidence was relevant, Freddie McNeil failed to show that it was material to his case, the court said.

Blake Fulton and Robert Rushinsky were driving around Lorraine, Ohio, looking to buy crack cocaine when they spotted McNeil. McNeil got in Fulton’s car and drove to near where McNeil lived, but he and Fulton got into an argument. McNeil got out of the car, took Fulton’s keys, and then shot him in the head. It was daytime and multiple witnesses, including Rushinsky, saw the events.

When the police interviewed Rushinsky, he couldn’t pick McNeil’s picture out of a photo lineup. When he was shown another set of pictures a little later, however, he immediately picked out McNeil’s picture as the man who shot Fulton.

When McNeil’s lawyer asked the state for evidence about Rushinsky’s identification interview to use during cross-examination, he was allowed to listen to a tape recording that didn’t include any mention of Rushinsky’s inability to initially identify McNeil.

After McNeil was convicted, he discovered a report that stated Rushinsky didn’t immediately identify McNeil as Fulton’s murderer. McNeil’s request for post-conviction relief from the state was denied and he filed for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court.

The withheld report was relevant to McNeil’s case because it could’ve been used to better impeach Rushinsky, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit said Aug. 20. But withholding it wasn’t prejudicial, it said.

A dissenting judge said that the suppression of Rushinsky’s full statement was unconstitutional because it undermined confidence in the verdict.