UPDATE | City reaches settlement with former pro baseball player whose conviction was overturned

WSAZ/Justin Rogers
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KANAHWA COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- UPDATE 4/1/19 @ 11:55 a.m.
The City of Charleston has reached a settlement with a former professional baseball player whose conviction was overturned after he was imprisoned on sexual assault and robbery charges for more than two decades.

The mayor's office confirms Jimmie Gardner will receive $175,000 from the city.

The crime happened back in 1987 in the Kanawha City area of Charleston.

At the time, Gardner was playing for the Charleston Wheelers -- the farm team for the Chicago Cubs. Gardner was convicted in 1990 and sentenced to 110 years in prison.

Prosecutors said they had DNA, a fingerprint, and the expert testimony from West Virginia's own Serologist Fred Zain. Years later, the State's expert was investigated and charged with falsifying DNA results to obtain convictions in numerous cases. Zain died in 2002.

The cases the serologist worked on were brought into question.

Gardner watched other people whose testimony Zain helped convict walk free, but his case didn't get the same second look. He spent 27 years behind bars, and all the while, he maintained his innocence. Finally, the case landed before Federal Judge Joseph A. Goodwin.

Calling the delay a "miscarriage of justice," Judge Goodwin overturned the conviction. On April 1, 2016, Gardner was released into the custody of his mother, who lived in Albany, Georgia.

Prosecutors said they could convict Gardner again, without Zain's testimony. Just days before the new trial was set to begin, the State said that time had taken a toll on the evidence. Kanawha County Prosecutor Chuck Miller said that tracking down witnesses and officers in the case proved extremely difficult. Also, the victims in the case passed away. The charges were dropped.



UPDATE 9/7/16 @ 11:50 p.m.
Jimmie Gardner was preparing to go on trial next week, accused of sexual assault and robbery 30 years ago.

Just says ahead of the trial, Wednesday, it was learned the charges against him will be dropped.

"This is the first day of the rest of my life. and I am appreciative, I am humble. I want to thank everyone involved," Gardner said outside the Kanawha County Courthouse Wednesday following a hearing.

Months before his previous conviction in this case overturned.

The crime happened back in 1987 in the Kanawha City area of Charleston. At the time, Gardner was playing for the Charleston Wheelers -- the farm team for the Chicago Cubs.

Years passed, and in 1990, he pleaded guilty to a gun charge in Tampa, Florida. That incident brought him back to Charleston to face the charges.

Prosecutors said they had DNA, a fingerprint, and the expert testimony of West Virginia's own Serologist Fred Zain.

Gardner was convicted. Sentenced to 110 years. All the while he maintained his innocence.

Years later, Zain, the State's expert, was investigated and found to lie on the stand to gain convictions.

Cases he was involved with were ordered a second look.

Gardner watched other people whose testimony Zain helped convict walk free, but his case didn't get the same second look.

"This is a process that eventually works. You have to stay grinding you have to keep the faith, stay motivated and stay on top of what you are doing," Gardner said

Almost 27 years later, the case landed before Federal Judge Joseph A. Goodwin.

Calling the delay a "miscarriage of justice," Judge Goodwin overturned the conviction.

"... for having the wisdom and the integrity that he showed and I would love to meet him one day, God willing I will be able to," Gardner said about Judge Goodwin.

Regardless, and without Zain's testimony, Kanawha County prosecutors said they could convict Gardner again, citing strong DNA evidence and a fingerprint.

"Statistically it was a one-in-32,500,000 chance that someone else would have had that DNA profile," Kanawha County Assistant Prosecutor Don Morris said at a hearing in April.

Judge Joanna Tabit ordered a new trial, but just days before the trial, prosecutors said that time had taken its toll on the evidence.

Kanawha County Prosecutor Chuck Miller said that tracking down witnesses and officers in the case proved extremely difficult.

The victims in the case have also passed away. What happened to them was not lost on Gardner Wednesday.

"Those people need to be acknowledged at this time also not just me, because they went through a horrific ordeal."

"I didn't do the crimes. I've heard naysayer's for 27 years, and I've heard people say this and say that makes no difference. I know I didn't do this crime."

As for someone in his shoes -- Gardner says they need to stay the course.

"Stay resilient with it never give up faith, never give up hope. It may seem bleak but understand as long as you've got breath, you've got hope."

Garnder told Judge Tabit in July that he didn't always make the right choices. When talking about the gun charge to which he pleaded guilty, that eventually linked him to the crime in Charleston, he said he is "not the man he used to be."

Gardner said he was "involved in things that were not good."

But now he says his focus is on what is good and how he can help others.

Gardner says his new life outside of prison bars will be filled with what he did behind it.

Studying, helping and counseling others, and motivational speaking.

"I look forward to going to work in Washington, DC if I have that opportunity in the office of Human Rights."

Gardner says he is not harbors no anger. He wants the world to know that "the judicial system eventually works."

"This is an epic day. I am humbled for the occasion, I am humbled for the opportunity to start my life anew."

UPDATE 9/7/16 @ 5:00 p.m.
Charges will be dropped in the case against a former Charleston baseball player who spent 27 years in prison for sexual assault.

Jimmie Gardner was sentenced to up to 110 years in prison in 1990, after he was convicted of sexual assault and robbery involving an incident that happened in the Kanawha City area of Charleston in 1987.

On Wednesday, Kanawha County Prosecutor Chuck Miller said the prosecuting attorney's office would be dropping the charges against Gardner. Miller said because the case dates back to the 80s it has been difficult to track down witnesses and officers who were involved with the case. Gardner's trial was set to start on September 12.

The office will now file a motion with Kanawha County Circuit Clerk dismissing all of the charges against Gardner.

Back in March, U.S. Judge Joseph Goodwin vacated Gardner's sentence based on false testimony given by then head serologist for West Virginia State Police, Fred Zain.

Zain, who died in 2002, had a history of lying on the stand.

UPDATE 7/12/16 @ 7 p.m.
A man who spent 27 years in prison for sexual assault and had his conviction lifted will have to stand trial once again for the charges.

On Tuesday, Kanawha County Judge Joanna Tabit ruled against Jimmie Gardner's motion to dismiss the case entirely.

His defense argues that his original conviction in a rape and robbery case hinged, in part, on testimony from former West Virginia State serologist Fred Zain who was found to lie on the stand to gain convictions.

The defense says that Gardner was denied a fair trial after the investigation into Zane's false testimony, which was ordered by the West Virginia Supreme Court but never happened despite repeated requests from Gardner. That was the same reason U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin overturned the conviction calling it a "miscarriage of justice."

"I'm a bit, not disappointed but it's a little, uh I guess, discomforting but I know this is an extraordinary request to get an indictment dismissed and the judges hands were basically tied," Gardner said after the hearing Tuesday, "unless you have the prosecution coming in saying yes we did do this and yes this did happen, that would give it more reliability."

Gardner was sentenced to up to 110 years in prison in 1990, after he was convicted of sexual assault and robbery involving an incident that happened in the Kanawha City area of Charleston in 1987.

Prosecutors say regardless of Zain's testimony they have DNA and fingerprint evidence that was matched to Gardner in the 1987 crime. They say there is enough evidence to present to a jury.

"Statistically it was a one-in-32,500,000 chance that someone else would have had that DNA profile," Prosecutor Don Morris said at a hearing in April.

At the time of his conviction, Gardner was a professional baseball player for the Charleston Wheelers which, at that time, was a farm team for the Chicago Cubs.

On April 1, Gardner was released into the custody of his mother, who lives in Albany, Georgia. Gardner will remain released on bond. His next court date is Aug. 26.

Gardner, who has always maintained his innocence, says since he left West Virginia, he's been volunteering as a counselor for other people who find themselves in positions similar to his.



UPDATE 4/13/16 @ 4:19 p.m.
Lawyers for a man whose conviction was overturned by a federal judge last month asked for his new trial date to be pushed back.

Jimmie Gardner was supposed to have his retrial in May, but a judge ruled Wednesday it can now happen in July.

Gardner is out on bond with his family in Georgia. He appeared in court Wednesday via video conference.

Despite his conviction being vacated, Kanawha County Proseuctors say they believe they have enough evidence to convict Gardner again.

Gardner is accused in a case of rape and robbery that dates back to 1987.

A judge vacated the original conviction because it hinged in-part on testimony from former West Virginia State Serologist Fred Zain, who was investigated and found to lie on the stand to gain convictions.

Gardner's case was supposed to be looked at by the court: but never was.

Federal Judge Joseph Goodwin, who overturned the conviction, called the situation a "miscarriage of justice."

A pretrial conference in the case will happen on June 27.

Gardner's trial is set to begin on July 11.



UPDATE: 4/2/16 @ 12:15 a.m.
After spending over quarter of a century behind bars, Jimmie Gardner, a former pro baseball player in Charleston, is back with his family.

The ensuing family reunion outside South Central Regional Jail, Friday, was as overdue as it was bittersweet for the Gardner's.

"Words can't describe this feeling right now, it's overwhelming," Eric Gardner said. "This has gone on for long enough."

Eric's older brother was released to his family, on bond, after spending more than 25 years behind bars.

But his freedom is still uncertain.

Kanawha County Prosecutors say they have enough DNA and fingerprint evidence to re-try Gardner on rape and robbery charges that date back to 1987.

"Statistically it was a one-in-32,500,000 chance that someone else would have had that DNA profile," Prosecutor Don Morris said.

Gardner's original conviction was tossed out by a federal judge, who said it hinged, in-part, on the testimony of former head state serologist, Fred Zain, who was charged with falsifying DNA results to obtain convictions.

George Castelle says he has defended hundreds of prisoners jailed because of Zain.

"In every case where evidence remains, there's questions about the validity of that evidence," Castelle said.

But, according to Castelle, Gardner has a unique advantage.

"Time," Castelle said. "It can help cases, it can hurt cases...now that the conviction has been set aside he's been returned to his pre-trial status which would mean he would enjoy and be protected by the presumption of innocence."

An innocence Gardner has maintained for nearly 30 years.

Now, for next six weeks, Gardner waits, with his family, before another jury decides his fate.

"I'm prepared for the fight that's about to come with this trial," Gardner said in a video posted on Facebook. "I'm humble right now, though."

While bond was being set, prosecutors cautioned the presiding Judge Tabit that Gardner was previously convicted for armed robbery in Florida.

Gardner is now in the custody of his mother and will go home to Albany, Ga., ahead of his trial, which begins May 16.



UPDATE 4/1/16 @ 11:55 a.m.
A judge has granted a new trial for Jimmie Gardner, a former professional baseball player who was convicted in 1990 on robbery and sexual assault charges.

Gardner was in Judge Tabit's courtroom in Kanawha County on Friday for a status conference and a bond hearing.

Judge Tabit set Gardner's bond at $10,000 or 10 percent cash. She also set a trial date for May 16.

During the hearing, Gardner's mother thanked Judge Tabit. Her son will be released into her custody. She lives in Albany, Georgia.

The State argued to Judge Tabit that there was DNA and fingerprint evidence that was matched to Gardner in the 1987 crime. They say there is enough evidence to present to a jury.

Judge Tabit responded saying she wants a quick resolution to the case, since Gardner has been in prison for almost 26 years.

A federal judge vacated Gardner's sentence on Friday, March 25, based on false testimony given by then head serologist for West Virginia State Police, Fred Zain.

Zain, who died in 2002, had a history of lying on the stand.

Many of the defendants convicted by Zain's testimony have since been exonerated. Jimmie Gardner, however, remains behind bars.

Keep clicking on WSAZ Mobile or WSAZ.com for the latest on this story.



UPDATE 3/30/16 @ 6:25 p.m.
The family of Jimmie Gardner, the former professional baseball player for the now defunct Charleston Wheelers who was sentenced to 110 years in prison in 1990 for sexual assault and robbery charges, are speaking out ahead of his bond hearing on Friday.

A federal judge vacated Gardner’s sentence on Friday, based on false testimony given by then head serologist for West Virginia State Police, Fred Zain.

Zain, who died in 2002, had a history of lying on the stand.

Many of the defendants convicted by Zain’s testimony have since been exonerated. Jimmie Gardner, however, remains behind bars.

Prosecutors have been given 60 days to either retry Gardner or release him.

"My brother is sitting there rotting for something he didn't do,” said Eric Gardner, Jimmie’s brother. "It's like they killed my brother when they put him in that cell. They killed my brother. But God's bringing him back to life. I strongly believe in that."

Eric Gardner says, despite maintaining his innocence while remaining in prison for the past 25 years, his brother has continued to keep faith.

“His faith is so solid, and he is so solid, it's scary. Because, he's not even mad at Fred Zain. He's like, 'Man, let God handle that,’” said Eric Gardner. “That's his spirit, every time I talk to him over these 28 years. I've never got a bitter phone call from my brother. I've never heard him cuss, I've never heard him talk foul. Even about Zain, I've never even heard him talk foul about the state of West Virginia. He was like, in due time, the truth will come out and I'll be home."

Jimmie Gardner has a status conference and bond hearing set for Friday morning. Eric says he plans to arrive in Charleston, from his home in Georgia, to attend the hearing.



UPDATE 3/29/16 @ 11:20 p.m.
Lawyers for the former professional baseball player from Charleston whose 110-year sentence was vacated by a federal judge Friday are asking for all of the court documents pertaining to his case.

The "omnibus discovery motion," filed on Jimmie Gardner's behalf, asks for the state of West Virginia to hand over any evidence it has in Gardner’s case.

The requests range from his statements and interviews, physical evidence, his prior record, and witness lists.

Gardner was sentenced to up to 110 years in prison in 1990, after he was convicted of sexual assault and robbery involving an incident that happened in the Kanawha City area of Charleston in 1987.

On Friday, calling it a "miscarriage of justice," U.S. Federal Judge Joseph Goodwin vacated the sentence. The state has 60 days to either retry Gardner or release him.

The ruling is, in part, because of the false testimony of the head serologist Fred Zain for the state of West Virginia.

Zain, who is now deceased, was investigated and found to have a pattern of lying on the stand during criminal cases.

Defendants in some of the cases that Zain was involved in were exonerated because of his false testimony.

On Tuesday, Kanawha County First Assistant Prosecutor Don Morris told WSAZ that he is continuing to go through the 800 pages of transcripts in the case to determine whether or not the State will retry Gardner without Zain's testimony.

Gardner has been trying for nearly two decades to have his case looked at by a court because of Zain's pattern of false testimony.

Gardner will be in court on Friday for a bond and status hearing.

Keep clicking on WSAZ Mobile and WSAZ.com for the latest on this story.



UPDATE 3/29/16 @ 2:50 p.m.
A man whose conviction was vacated by a U.S. Federal Judge has been moved from the Mount Olive Correctional Center to the South Central Regional Jail.

Lawrence Messina with the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs says Jimmie Gardner is now effectively a pre-trial felon and is no longer being held in the Division of Corrections.

WSAZ has reached out to Gardner for an interview, but he has declined.

Jimmie Gardner's conviction on sexual assault and robbery charges, and his sentence for up to 110 years was overturned Friday, March 26.

The sentencing is connected to the assault on a woman in the Kanawha City area of Charleston in 1987.

A strongly-worded order from U.S. Federal Judge Joseph Goodwin said the conviction, in part, hinged on testimony from Fred Zain. Zain, who's now deceased, was the head serologist for the state of West Virginia.

In the years following Gardner's trial, Zain was investigated and found to have a long history of falsifying evidence in criminal prosecutions, and many people that Zain played a role in convicted have been exonerated.

According to the order from Judge Goodwin, Gardner has been trying for years to have his case reexamined, but it has never happened in Kanawha County.

Judge Goodwin said in the order, "Unfortunately for Gardner the mockery of justice has endured; the state circuit court has failed to rule on the merits of Gardner's habeas corpus petition to this day, delivering a complete miscarriage of justice."

First Assistant Kanawha County Prosecutor Don Morris tells WSAZ that he is in the process of going through the case and its transcripts to determine whether or not they will retry Gardner for the crimes without the evidence and testimony of Zain.

Morris said because the order vacates the convictions, Gardner is to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, but didn't want to comment further because the case is pending.

Gardners' status and bond hearing is set at 11:30 a.m. April 1, in Judge Joanna Tabit's courtroom.

The state has 60 days to either retry or release Gardner.

Keep clicking on WSAZ Mobile and WSAZ.com for updates.



UPDATE: 3/28/16 @ 7:39 p.m.
A status conference and bond hearing for a man whose conviction was vacated by a U.S. Federal Judge will happen Friday, April 1.

Jimmie Gardner's conviction on sexual assault and robbery charges, and his sentence for up to 110 years was overturned Friday.

The sentencing is connected to the assault on a woman in the Kanawha City area of Charleston in 1987.

A strongly-worded order from U.S. Judge Joseph Goodwin said that the conviction, in part, hinged on testimony from Fred Zain. Zain, who's now deceased, was the head serologist for the state of West Virginia.

In the years following Gardner's trial, Zain was investigated and found to have a long history of falsifying evidence in criminal prosecutions, and many people that Zain played a role in convicted have been exonerated.

According to the order from Judge Goodwin, Gardner has been trying for years to have his case reexamined, but it has never happened in Kanawha County.

Judge Goodwin said in the order, "Unfortunately for Gardner the mockery of justice has endured; the state circuit court has failed to rule on the merits of Gardner's habeas corpus petition to this day, delivering a complete miscarriage of justice."

First Assistant Kanawha County Prosecutor Don Morris tells WSAZ that he is in the process of going through the case and its transcripts to determine whether or not they will retry Gardner for the crimes without the evidence and testimony of Zain.

Morris said because the order vacates the convictions, Gardner is to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, but didn’t want to comment further because the case is pending.

Gardners' status and bond hearing is set at 11:30 a.m. April 1, in Judge Joanna Tabit's courtroom.

The state has 60 days to either retry or release Gardner.

At the time of his conviction, Gardner was a professional baseball player for the Charleston Wheelers which, at that time, was a farm team for the Chicago Cubs.

Keep clicking on WSAZ Mobile and WSAZ.com for the latest on this story.



ORIGINAL STORY 3/25/16
A strongly-worded order from U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin says that a former professional baseball player from Charleston should be released from prison or be retried for a crime.

Jimmie Gardner, who was a player for the Charleston Wheelers, was arrested and convicted of sexual assault, robbery and burglary in connection with an incident that happened in the Kanawha City area of Charleston in 1987.

He's currently being held at Mount Olive State Correctional Facility.

The order says that Jimmie Gardner has been held in prison for 25 years after the state of West Virginia convicted him using false testimony from former West Virginia State Police head serologist Fred Zain. According to the order in 1993, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia was confronted with a pattern of misconduct by the state's head serologist. Other cases have been overturned based on false testimony given by Zain.

The order goes on to say that the state court has allowed Gardner's habeus petition in this case to languish for more than two decades.

"Unfortunately for Gardner, the mockery of justice has endured; the state circuit court has failed to rule on the merits of Gardner's habeas corpus petition to this day, delivering a complete miscarriage of justice," wrote Judge Goodwin.

At Gardner's trial in 1990, Zain testified that Gardner could not be ruled out as a perpetrator-- but, according to his lab reports, Gardner could be ruled out because his blood type is A and the rape test indicated the perpetrator had type O blood.

In the order from Judge Goodwin it says, "Though Gardner diligently and persistently sought habeas relief ... he waits for the court to act."

It goes on to say, "The Circuit Court of Kanawha County has avoided a final ruling on the merits, despite being ordered to conduct a full evidentiary hearing multiple times by the SCAWV.

The order requires that the state either retry or release Gardner within 60 days.

WSAZ has reached out to Kanawha County leaders for comment.

Keep clicking on WSAZ Mobile and WSAZ.com for the latest on this story.




 
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