On February 13, 1994, at about 8:45 p.m., a gunman entered a Bucyrus Estates’ apartment and shot all six people inside. Three were killed: Marichell Chatman; her 5-year-old daughter, Marchae; and Marichell’s aunt, Linda Chatman. Three victims survived: Marichell’s boyfriend Richard Warren, and Marichell’s young cousins, Quanita and Quinton Reeves.
Kevin Keith was convicted and on death row within three-and-a-half months of the crime.
Police built a case around Kevin.
The surviving adult, Richard Warren, was shot four times but escaped from the apartment to a nearby restaurant where he told no less than four different witnesses—including a police officer—that he did not know who shot him. The hospital security guard report, created the next day at 1:00 p.m., reflected Warren’s description of the shooter: “The perpetrator whos [sic] name is still unknown is still at large. The only description of the perpetrator is that it is a black male approximately 6’3” in height [sic] and about 260 lbs.
But the State claimed that Warren named “Kevin” as his shooter when he came out of surgery at 5:00 a.m. that morning – eight hours before the security guard report. As a result of that, they claimed, the police officers called Warren and gave him four or five “Kevins” from whom to choose. The photo lineup they showed Warren, according to seventeen eyewitness identification experts, was “highly biased toward Keith.”1 Warren chose Kevin Keith from the lineup.
The police had theorized early on that Kevin was the shooter; one of the officers admitted that he brought up Kevin’s name at the crime scene that night. At first, the suspicion was logical. The victims’ family member, Rudel Chatman, was the informant for a cocaine drug raid that had occurred a couple weeks before, and Kevin had been one of the eight people arrested in that raid. (Kevin was charged with selling less than 3 grams of crack cocaine.) Also, five witnesses told the police that they had seen a “large black man” in the area, and Kevin is a large black man. It was not until weeks after Kevin’s arrest that police realized the witnesses were not referring to Kevin, but rather to a bystander who had just moved into the apartment complex.
The police acted quickly: less than two days after the shootings, Kevin was arrested at his home in Crestline, Ohio. He has never been questioned by police.
The Bucyrus Chief of Police conducted a press conference after Kevin’s arrest, and he referenced carpet fibers, shoe prints, and shoes that had been collected as evidence and submitted to BCI. Chief Beran explained, “What we have is some evidence that we have collected that we hope we will be able to link him to the crimes.” It did not.
Evidence contradicted police theory, but Kevin had already been arrested.
Two days after Kevin’s arrest, seven-year-old surviving victim Quanita told her nurse that the person who shot them was “Bruce,” who was “Daddy’s friend.”
Quanita then reiterated to detectives that “Daddy’s friend Bruce” was the man who shot them. The detectives showed her the suggestive photo lineup containing Kevin’s picture, and she was clear that “none” of the pictures were of the man who shot them. She was also clear that Kevin was not the man she knew as Bruce. Notably, she excluded Kevin’s photo due to the distinctive shape of his head.
By the time of trial, the police knew about the lack of forensic evidence implicating Kevin. They knew that Quanita excluded Kevin as the shooter, and they knew that only one survivor (Richard Warren) would be testifying against Kevin. Still, the Bucyrus Chief of Police went to the media immediately before the trial began and said the exact opposite:
The eyewitness was never asked if this car was the same car she saw that night. Nonetheless, the State determined this was the car and that Kevin had been driving it, even though there was not a single piece of forensic evidence in the car that linked it to Kevin or to the scene.
In March, BCI completed its analysis of the evidence collected by the Bucyrus Police.
None of that evidence implicated Kevin.
Kevin had an alibi.
Kevin also had a well-corroborated alibi. He had dropped his fiancé, Zina Scott, off at work at the General Electric plant, then headed to the apartment of his clandestine girlfriend, Melanie Davison. Davison’s neighbor noticed Kevin and Davison leaving Davison’s apartment in Mansfield at about 8:45 p.m. that evening—which was over 30 minutes away from where the shootings were occurring at Bucyrus Estates. The neighbor clearly recalled the television show she was watching, which came on at 8:30 p.m.
Around 9:00 p.m., Kevin and Davison arrived in Crestline at the home of Kevin’s aunt, Grace Keith. Grace Keith testified to seeing Kevin at her house around 9:00 p.m.
Yolanda Price also later confirmed Kevin was there. Davison’s detailed account of her time with Kevin that night is corroborated by a recently discovered police report. Davison had described how she and Kevin had watched from the kitchen window as the police arrested a drunk driver, even remembering that the police had placed the man in police “car #10.” The contemporaneous police report for that arrest precisely corroborated her account. Kevin then dropped Melanie back off at her apartment before picking up Scott from work.
1 Eyewitness/Memory Experts from across the country joined to write a brief on Kevin’s behalf, urging the Ohio Supreme Court to grant relief in 2017. The Court declined to review Kevin’s case.