CINCINNATI (AP) — Prosecutors and lawyers for a Jordanian man who spent two decades on Ohio's death row before his conviction was tossed said Thursday that they are trying to work out an agreement to avoid his retrial.
Ahmad Fawzi Issa, 49, in jail stripes and handcuffs, pleaded not guilty to aggravated murder in Hamilton County court. He will remain jailed without bond. While the murder charge may end up being dropped, attorneys said Issa will face likely deportation to his homeland after this case is resolved.
Issa was convicted in 1998 and sentenced to die for allegedly arranging the 1997 slaying of a Cincinnati convenience store owner. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year threw out his conviction, ruling that his constitutional right to confront witnesses against him was violated and that hearsay testimony was used to convict him.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Ohio's appeal and gave the state six months to retry Issa or release him.
Prosecutor Mark Piepmeier said it would be difficult to take the case to trial again after so many years, and that at least two of the original police investigators have died. He also said of three people charged in the case, Issa, the alleged middleman in a contract murder, got the strongest sentence in the slaying of store owner Maher Khriss.
"The least morally culpable, in my mind, is the guy that got the death penalty," Piepmeier told The Associated Press. "It's kind of unjust."
Judge J. Patrick Foley III scheduled a July 18 hearing for an update on the case.
"Right now, he's pretty positive and upbeat," said Issa's defense attorney Timothy McKenna, who added that he is still reviewing the original case.
Khriss' wife, Linda, was charged with hiring someone to kill him but was acquitted at her trial. Andre Miles was convicted of two counts of aggravated murder of Maher Khriss and his brother Ziad Khriss in the parking lot of Maher's store in the early morning hours of Nov. 22, 1997.
Miles is serving life in prison without parole. Miles refused to testify at Issa's trial, in which other witnesses said Miles told them he was hired by Issa to kill the store owner.
The appeals court said Miles' statements "are the only direct evidence implicating Issa in a murder for hire." The court's ruling also pointed out that Miles' friends said he often bragged and lied.
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