Man Freed After Spending 21 Years in Prison for Crime That 'Never Happened'

Ralph Blaine Smith was freed from an Ohio prison this week, after serving 21 years for a crime that may not have occurred.

Smith, 45, was accused of being one of two Black men who forced their way into a Lancaster home occupied by a couple and their children in February 2000, according to the Columbus Dispatch. The suspects reportedly made one of the adults open a safe and stole rare comic books and around $10,000 in cash.

The prosecution's case against Smith was based entirely on two of the victims identifying him from a photo lineup, with no other evidence linking him to the crime. He was sentenced to 67 years in prison after being convicted of multiple counts of aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, and kidnapping.

But last month, Fairfield County Common Pleas Court Judge Richard Berens ruled that prosecutors had withheld evidence that suggested the crime may have been staged—and granted him a new trial.

Smith's attorney Joe Landusky told the newspaper that a private investigator uncovered much of the evidence that prosecutors didn't disclose during Smith's trial in August 2000.

A narrative supplement written by one of the first officers to respond to the reported robbery "contains numerous observations expressing skepticism about whether a crime had occurred," according to the newspaper.

The officer noted there were no fresh footprints in the snow outside the house where the home invasion had reportedly taken place, and that the interior didn't seem like it had been ransacked.

Smith was released on Friday after posting the $300,000 bond that the judge set for him on Thursday.

The Fairfield County prosecutor's office has yet to decide whether it will try Smith again. Prosecutor Kyle Witt told the Dispatch that the "passage of time presents certain hurdles and impediments for retrying the case."

Smith told the newspaper that he wants the charges against him to be dismissed.

"I didn't do it, and I think they know I didn't do it," he said. "And they know a lot of foul stuff happened."

Smith's movements will be limited by an ankle monitor until prosecutors determine whether or not to move forward with the retrial.

In the meantime, he is looking forward to spending time with family, including his 74-year-old mother and his 22-year-old son, who was eight months old when Smith was convicted.

Smith's attorney and the Fairfield County prosecutor's office have been contacted for additional comment.

Barbed wire stock photo
Stock photo. A man was freed from prison after serving 21 years in prison for a crime that may not have happened. iStock