Friday, March 9, 2012

Joaquin Hicks free instead of retrial after county prosecutor Mason offers time served in case of robbery and murder of Cleveland Clinic employee

Joaquin Hicks

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason

Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Judge Jose Villaneueva

Cleveland Criminal Defense Attorney Edele Passalacqua

Jeremy Pechanec

Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Judge Daniel Gaul

Jory Aebly

By Kathy Wray Coleman, Editor, Cleveland Urban News.Com and The Kathy Wray Coleman Online News Blog.Com ( and (

CLEVELAND, Ohio-A Black man that was serving 61 years in prison for allegedly setting up a robbery that led a Black teen to commit an execution style murder of a White male Cleveland Clinic employee and the wounding of another outside of a downtown Cleveland night club in Feb. 2009 is a free man after a state appellate court reversed his convictions and remanded the case for a retrial and he accepted Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason's offer of time served.

Joaquin Hicks, now 31, had been charged in Sept 2009 in an eight-count indictment alleging one count of aggravated murder, two counts of kidnapping, two counts of aggravated robbery, and one county of attempted murder, all having gun specifications of one to three years.

A jury found him guilty of all but two counts of aggravated murder in May of 2010 and he was sentenced that same year by Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Judge Daniel Gaul to 61 years in prison.

Appearing yesterday before Common Pleas Court Judge Jose Villanueva, who replaced Gaul because Hick's attorney is running against him for his seat in the upcoming Nov. election, Hicks said okay to the plea deal of pleading guilty to aggravated robbery, one agreed to, say community activists, not because he is guilty, but because the political corruption in Cuyahoga County could possibly bring another unjust conviction on a retrial.

The saga is laced with recantation letters from some alleged witnesses against Hicks that were prosecuted too and are serving long prison terms, coupled with claims by defense counsel and the Hicks family that the wrong man was targeted, and railroaded, and partly because of Gaul's negligence and prejudicial behavior at trial.

Mason issued a press release on Thurs. announcing that Hicks had accepted a plea deal of aggravated robbery and time served in order to be set free.

He will be officially released on Mon.

Ohio Eighth District Court of Appeals judges Melody Stewart, Mary Boyle and Mary Eileen Kilbane said in a decision for a retrial issued last year that Gaul abused his discretion at trial.

They said that he prejudiced the case when he did not do an inquiry on a prejudicial contention made before the jury by asssistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor Dan Cleary that the testimonies of witnesses for Hicks were allegedly influenced in his favor by his attorneys.

Gaul, who had no Democratic primary opponent in Tues. election, will face Republican Edele Passalacqua in Nov. as he seeks reelection to the bench.

But Passalacqua is not just any ole criminal defense attorney, she is Hicks' aggressive and determined trial lawyer in the case, along with John Paris, who is just as vivacious in fighting for his clients. And when she put her name in the hat to run against the controversial Gaul, he was forced to recuse himself from the case.

"I would have put my entire career on Joaquin Hick's innocence," said Passalacqua in an interview. "Joaquin Hicks wants to extend his gratitude and his well wishes to the community without which the strength to continue on as innocent man would have been far more difficult."

Just off of a stayed six month suspension last year for unethical behavior against Blacks that come before him, Gaul had sentenced Hicks to six decades plus one in prison as the alleged ring leader that planned a robbery that led to the execution style murder of Jeremy Pechanec, then 28, and the attempted murder of Jory Aebly, then 26, at an outdoor park plaza across from Schorcher's, then a downtown Cleveland night club at the ritzy Reserve Square apartment facility at 12th St and Chester Ave.

Both were young, educated and White. And that worked for the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland's most renowned and powerful conglomerate of hospitals and medical facilities, and one recognized internationally as a top 10.

But Hicks was never accused of being the shooter, which heightened the implications of Gaul's excessive sentence. And community activist groups such as the Imperial Women, the Cleveland Chapter of the New Black Panther Party, the Lucasville Uprising Freedom Network, the People's Forum, Stop Targeting Ohio's Poor, the Greater Cleveland Immigrant Support Network, and Black on Black Crime never wavered in support of Hicks on the murder charges and what they say is typical bias as to the malicious prosecutions of Blacks and others in municipal and the common pleas court of Cuyahoga County.

At trial Hicks testified that he was not even at the scene of the crime and was with a girlfriend at a family party that night, an alibi backed by his family members at trial, and a waitress at the night club could not finger Hicks when she took the stand for the defense. And his lawyers argued at trial that he had no reason to rob anyone because he was fresh out of prison on a previous robbery conviction and had just received a $23 thousand life insurance policy on his mother's death.

Trial testimony also revealed that Pechanec and Aebly went outside of the bar and across the street to the plaza to buy marijuana and were allegedly robbed by the group of Black men, and eventually shot by Ralfael King, a teenager at the time. Both were shot in the head, and while the bullet killed Pechanec, Aebly survived in what doctors branded a miracle. He did not completely recover, though he took the stand and testified against Hicks.

Unlike Hicks, the three men and the teen accused of crimes along with Hicks all took plea deals for their roles, after Hicks was convicted. They were also sentenced by Gaul, claiming afterwards that the controversial judge broke promises on plea deals for lessor time.

Shooter Ralfeal King, 17 at the time but prosecuted as an adult, was sentenced to 46 years to life for aggravated murder, attempted murder, aggravated robbery and kidnapping. And Perry King, then 20, a lesser accomplice in the crime, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for driving the getaway car.

Cornelius King, then 26, who pleaded guilty to murder for his actions in the crimes, was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. He testified that Hicks organized the robbery that led to the murder and attempted murder, a claim Hicks denied under oath and said was leveled in exchange for plea deals that the others accused in the scenario were to receive.

Reginald Day, who also pleaded guilty to murder, got 21 years to life.

In addition to having racial implications since Hicks and the other alleged assailants are Black, Aebly is White, and Pechanec was White, the case was complicated enough to force Mason to cut a deal before a retrial since Cornelius King, who testified against Hicks at trial, and Perry King, both related to each other and to shooter Raphael King, and Day, have recanted in writing for Gaul.

Those letters of recantation from two of the King brothers, and their cousin Day, also allege that they were manipulated, either by police or the county prosecutor's office, to falsely finger Hicks.

Reach Kathy Wray Coleman by email at and by telephone at 216-932-3114