DAYTON — Roger Dean Gillispie heard the words Thursday that he had been waiting for decades to hear.
After a 31-year fight and two decades in jail, the longtime Fairborn resident was declared a wrongfully imprisoned person by Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Susan Solle and the State of Ohio.
“Today’s acknowledgement of my wrongful imprisonment shows that the judicial system works,” an emotional Gillispie told the court, which was packed with family and friends. “We’re grateful for that. I’d like to thank my family and my friends, my advisors, the Ohio Innocence Project and the many others for their belief in me and the dedication to seek the truth over the last 31 years. I’m also standing here to represent others, others that I personally know, others that are in this fight to seek their own truth, to show that the system, with patience, lots of patience, works.”
Gillispie, 56, was twice convicted of rape, kidnapping, gross sexual imposition, and aggravated robbery for crimes in Harrison and Miami townships in 1988. Indicted in 1990, he was first convicted in February 1991 and then again in June 1991 after the court gave him a new trial. He spent 20 years in London Correctional Facility before being released in 2011 after a federal court found the state withheld evidence that was “material” to his defense.
Gillispie’s attorney, Michele Berry Godsey, said the evidence would have lead to his acquittal had it been presented to the juries in either of his two trials and the state agreed by making Thursday’s declaration.
“Thirty-one years. Thirty-one years of waiting for this,” Gillispie said. “Absolutely had nothing to do with this. I’ve lost 31 of the best years of my life to get here today. And it’s an overwhelming experience to finally be able to have them say the words that should have been said a long time ago. From the beginning to the end, everyone believed in me, knew I didn’t do it. Some of them were with me on the days this supposedly happened. They knew that I didn’t do this and they’ve stuck with me like glue through the whole thing. When you’re accused of rape, kidnapping, and armed robbery, people run to the hills to get away from you. Not in this case.”
In addition to making Gillispie’s innocence official, Thursday’s hearing also served as a statutorily required notification of his rights to file a lawsuit against the state in the court of claims. According to the Ohio Revised Code, Gillispie is to receive $40,330 (or the adjusted amount based on the consumer price index) for each full year he served in prison. That number is closer to $55,000 Berry Godsey said. Gillispie is also able to recoup lost salary as well as attorney fees.
It will be a “multi-million dollar lawsuit” Berry Godsey said.
Gillispie said his family is buried in debt, but the lawsuit will not just be about money.
“It’s about showing that we were right,” he said, adding that the money doesn’t fix the mental anguish and PTSD he suffered.
“I look and feel great today,” Gillispie said. “But every day is a struggle to survive. I don’t have nothing. The state took everything from me that I possibly had.”
The Ohio Innocence Project played a big role in Thursday’s outcome. Since its inception in 2003, OIP has helped exonerate 33 wrongfully convicted Ohioans.
“There were lots of red flags in this case,” Co-Founder and Director Mark Godsey said. “It’s just one that screamed out that needed re-investigation. It’s actually surreal. The state was saying he’s totally guilty at the beginning and here we are, the judge apologizing to him 18 years later. It makes you reflect on time. Dean didn’t give up and he had the support of his family and everybody around him.”
And Dean will have them as he moves forward from Thursday.
“This is just the beginning of the next chapter,” Gillispie said. “Please God don’t let it be 31 years.”
Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.