On June 22, 1994, the nude body of 41-year-old Crystal Hudson was found in the bedroom closet of her 6th floor apartment in Cleveland, Ohio. She had been strangled and the body was partially decomposed.
Police suspected 37-year-old Evin King primarily because he was in the apartment when Hudson’s daughter found the body and because Hudson’s mother told police she had a “premonition” that King killed her daughter. King was among numerous people who had come to the apartment and sometimes stayed there. King’s clothing was examined for Hudson’s blood or any fibers from her bedroom, but none was found.
An autopsy showed scrapes on her cheek, jaw, and torso, as well as a bruise on her scalp. Her rectum had been damaged. Vaginal and rectal swabs were taken and many sperm heads were found, although few of the sperm were intact.
Serological and DNA testing were performed on the rape kits. A male DNA profile was developed, but it wasn’t King’s DNA.
On July 5, 1994, King was indicted on a charge of first-degree murder.
In February 1995, King went to trial in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. The prosecution contended that Hudson had consensual sex with someone else before King murdered her.
Hudson’s daughter, who was staying with her grandmother two floors above Hudson’s apartment, testified that her mother often kept the door to the apartment ajar. Testimony showed that on June 21, the night before the body was discovered, King was in the apartment along with Hudson’s mother and a neighbor. When one of them commented about a bad odor, King allegedly said he had been cooking, although there did not seem to be any evidence that anyone had been cooking.
Deputy coroner Robert Chellener testified that the injuries to Hudson’s body—including the damage to the rectum—were inflicted at the time she was killed. However, he said it was unlikely that the sperm was deposited at or near the time of her death because only a few intact sperm were present.
Kay May, a forensic serologist, testified that she conducted serological testing on the swabs and excluded King as the source of the sperm. She also testified that the sperm was “deposited sometime before her death.” Based on her testing, she said it was at least 16 hours and perhaps as much as a week before death. May also testified that no biological material “of evidentiary value” was detected in scrapings from Hudson’s fingernails.
King’s defense attorney argued that the person who killed Hudson also raped her, and that because King was excluded as the source of the sperm, he was innocent. Several witnesses testified to seeing King in places other than the apartment building in the days before the body was discovered.
On February 28, 1995, the jury convicted King of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to 15 years to life prison. In 1996, the Ohio Court of Appeals upheld the conviction.
In 2004, King filed a petition seeking DNA testing of the fingernail scrapings. In 2008, the motion was granted. The Cuyahoga County Coroner’s Office completed the tests in January 2009 and found that there was in fact biological material in the scrapings that excluded King as the source. The tests also revealed a partial DNA profile that was consistent with the DNA profile obtained from the rape kit swabs.
In May 2010, King was notified of the tests results and filed a post-conviction petition requesting that his conviction be vacated. The prosecution argued that the testing did not contradict the forensic testimony at the trial. Following a hearing in February 2011, during which the defense called no witnesses, the petition was denied. The judge noted, “The only new evidence is that the DNA material under the fingernail was not the defendant’s and that it was consistent with the vaginal DNA material. The Court concludes that this particular additional information does not by clear and convincing evidence establish in the Court’s mind actual innocence of the defendant.”
In 2012, the Ohio Court of Appeals upheld that ruling in a split decision. In a dissent, Judge Melody Stewart said the new evidence was “crucial because it is the exact evidence that King argued” at trial and the evidence that the trial court—at the time the DNA testing was granted—said would “prove the identity of the real killer.”
In 2014, the Ohio Innocence Project began representing King and went back to the trial court in 2015. Armed with expert reports that contradicted the forensic testimony at King’s trial, the petition requested additional DNA testing materials from the prosecution and that the DNA profile be uploaded into the FBI DNA database. The profile had been searched in the Ohio database in late 2008 or early 2009, but it was not matched to anyone.
DNA expert Alan Keel reported that the coroner’s discovery of intact sperm “supported rather than undermined the conclusion that the semen was deposited contemporaneously with death.” Keel also said that the forensic analyst’s conclusion that the lack of a particular protein in the semen meant it was deposited at least 16 hours prior to death was “illogical and incorrect.” The inability to detect the protein would not be unexpected “in an environment as hostile as a non-living vagina on a hot summer day in an un-air-conditioned Cleveland apartment closet… and says nothing about when the semen was deposited,” Keel said.
Dr. Daniel Spitz, a forensic pathologist and toxicologist, also testified for the defense. He said that both the coroner and the forensic analyst failed to take into account that the autopsy was performed and the samples collected about 26.5 hours after Hudson’s body was discovered. Spitz concluded that the evidence “supports the conclusion that the sperm deposition, rectal trauma and ligature strangulation all occurred at or around the same time.”
In November 2015, the motion was denied. The trial judge said the defense had, at best, created a “battle of the experts.”
The Ohio Innocence Project appealed and in January 2017, the Ohio Court of Appeals reversed the trial court ruling. “When viewed in the light of the new advanced DNA test results, this evidence suggests that the victim was raped and murdered by the same man whose DNA was found on her body. It is undisputed that this man is not King.”
The appeals court ordered that King’s lawyers be granted access to the DNA test results, that King be afforded an evidentiary hearing, and that the DNA profile be uploaded to the FBI DNA database.
In April 2017, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley asked that King’s conviction be vacated. The motion was granted and on April 19, 2017, King was released.
On October 17, 2017, the prosecution dismissed the case.