CLEVELAND — Crystal Straus of Cleveland has now become Crystal Tiedjen, after marrying the man who was originally convicted of killing her brother, Brian McGary, back in 1987.
Fifty-seven-year-old John Tiedjen was released from prison after serving 32 years in McGary's death after dozens of new evidence photos and police reports not seen in the original trial were submitted in the case.
In June, Cuyahoga County Judge Dick Ambrose threw out Tiedjen's murder conviction and granted a new trial because he reported the new evidence would have changed the outcome of the case. Tiedjen remains on bond and on house arrest pending the new trial.
Tiedjen told News 5 Crystal Straus wrote him a letter while he was in jail fighting to prove his innocence, maintaining McGary took his own life, in a case he said had no physical evidence linking him to the crime. Tiedjen said Straus offered her forgiveness and belief that he couldn't have killed her brother.
"With all my heart I love her, there is nobody else I think about, and I want to be with her my whole life," Tiedjen said. “And I wrote her a letter back and I said I didn’t do it, take a look at this stuff. I believe in God too, and I know things about it, but I didn’t do it.”
“I had no powder burns, no gunshot residue, no blood, no cuts, no scrapes, nothing on my person or me or my clothing," he said.
Straus told News 5 she loves and believes in Tiedjen, but knows the road to his permanent freedom won't be easy.
“I love him obviously, if I didn’t love him I would not be sitting here with him, Straus said.
“I spent the whole time through COVID analyzing and learning about this case. We’ll get through this, it's going to be challenging, there’s no doubt about it," she said.
Tiedjen said he's also frustrated the court will so far not allow him to get eye surgery while on house arrest, which he said is needed to save the sight in his left eye.
But despite all the new evidence, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office believes it has enough evidence to convict Tiedjen once again, even though its motion to reverse the ruling of Judge Ambrose was denied by the 8th District Court of Appeals.
The prosecutor's office told News 5 it has evidence Tiedjen asked a friend to dispose of the gun used in McGary's death.
It was Tiedjen's defense attorney, Kimberly Kendall Corral, who officiated the wedding, and submitted all the unseen crime photos and police reports, which triggered a new trial.
Kendall-Corral believes more judicial reform is needed in Ohio to expedite the hearing process for those who submit new evidence and are trying to prove their innocence.
"The judge decided had the evidence been available, the outcome of the trial would have been different," Kendall-Corral said.
“From a legislative perspective, we need to do something with the parole board. The parole board doesn’t give time and attention to these cases, they don’t give equal time to these cases, they’re not transparent about what the opposition is. We need to give defendants a full and fair opportunity to present evidence that wasn’t available at the time of trial, whatever the reason was.”
Pierce Reed, Program Director for Policy, Legislation and Education, with the Ohio Innocence Project at the University Cincinnati, also called for continued judicial reform here in the Buckeye State.
The Ohio Innocence Project has freed 33 wrongfully convicted Ohioans since its inception in 2003. Reed told News 5 he supports the exploration of new rules of criminal procedure that would help give a specific path for people submitting innocence claims to help with motions for a new trial.
“It would give a track that will help people with their innocence claims, having the better opportunity to be heard," Reed said.
“I'm also in support of potential legislation being explored that would forbid law enforcement from using deception during interrogations with juveniles.”
Meanwhile, an initial hearing in Tiedjen's re-trial effort is set to take place in Cuyahoga County Court on August 31.