SANDUSKY, Ohio — A lot has changed in the McDonald family since 1995, but one thing hasn’t: Dewitt McDonald Jr. maintaining he is innocent of the felony crimes that put him behind bars,
“He’s missed countless baseball games, football games, basketball games and we can’t get that time back,” said McDonald’s son, Dewitt Mcdonald III. “My dad has had the same story since I was 5 years old. His story has never changed. His story never changes. All stories have changed around him and he has maintained his innocence.”
McDonald Jr. was convicted of aggravated murder in the shooting death of Vivian Johnson, of Sandusky, in 1995. Two other men were also charged as co-defendants, but have since been released.
“I had nothing to do with it,” he said via phone at Richland Correctional Institute. “There’s been two injustices here. The first one was Vivian Johnson getting killed and the second one was me, an innocent man, getting put in prison for something I had nothing to do with.”
Over the years his case and sentencing has been heavily disputed.
“We know that there are huge injustices. My brother was not there, he was not in that car, he did not shoot Vivian Johnson,” said his sister, Lisa McDonald.
McDonald’s lawyer said his sentencing indicated that he would be eligible for parole after 20 years behind bars, which was 2015. But the Ohio Attorney General’s office argued that he had no chance of parole until 36 years spent behind bars.
“Nobody wants to take the blame and nobody wants to own up to it. Who changed that? How did that get changed?” his sister said.
She said they’ve been fighting to correct his sentence for years, and just a few months ago an Erie County Judge agreed with McDonald’s lawyer, that his eligibility for parole should’ve been in 2015.
The Attorney General’s office appealed that decision but was dismissed by an appellate court. Earlier this week, that same judge granted McDonald’s lawyer request for habeas corpus and an immediate release of McDonald.
His son said they were elated; family and friends flew in from all over the country to see him walk out of prison on Wednesday.
“My whole entire life my dad has told me he would be home soon, just imagine you hearing your day say you’ll be home soon, home soon, home soon and soon is finally here,” he said. “When we saw an immediate release we knew it was in stone that the judge was letting him come home, and that didn’t happen.”
The attorney general’s office filed an appeal for the release and an emergency stay order to keep McDonald in prison until the appeal hearing.
“What are they holding him for? Why? Why do you want him to stay?” said McDonald’s sister. “There were other co-defendants who were also charged in this case, but for some reason my brother’s name is the only name that comes up when this case is mentioned.”
She said they are heartbroken but are not hopeless and that they will continue to fight for his release.
“I just want to let the Johnson family know that we feel for your loss, we really do, and we have for all of these years, but we want to bring our brother home. He did not do this,” she said.
The attorney general’s office said it cannot comment on pending litigation but that the 6th District Court of Appeals did issue an order Friday while the appeal is ongoing.