Appeals court rejects bid to overturn conviction of Kevin Keith, whose case was championed by Kim Kardashian

CLEVELAND, Ohio — A federal appeals court on Tuesday rejected the latest attempt to overturn the conviction of Kevin Keith, who was found guilty of murdering three people and wounding three others in 1994.

Keith’s case garnered national attention after celebrity Kim Kardashian championed his innocence and featured it on her criminal-justice podcast, The System.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the arguments of Keith’s attorneys — that the trial was tainted by a questionable state forensic scientist and a document that police never provided to the defense — failed to meet the high legal standard needed to overturn Keith’s convictions.

Judges Raymond Kethledge, Eugene Siler Jr. and Helen White wrote that the arguments fell just short of the legal standard that no reasonable juror would find Keith guilty.

Kethledge, who authored the opinion, wrote: “We think that only some — and perhaps most — jurors likely would find reasonable doubt.”

cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer reached out to Keith’s attorneys for comment.

The appeal is Keith’s fourth in the federal system to be rejected. Several other appeals in state court also were unsuccessful.

Keith was initially sentenced to death for the slayings of Marichell Chatman, her 7-year-old daughter, Marchae, and Marichell’s aunt, Linda Chatman. Three others were wounded by gunfire inside an apartment in Bucyrus, about 105 miles southwest of Cleveland.

Prosecutors said Keith targeted the group because a family member worked as a police informant in a drug-trafficking case in which Keith was arrested. He also fit the general description that witnesses provided, and one surviving victim testified that Keith was the gunman.

Then-Gov. Ted Strickland in 2010 commuted his sentence to life in prison without parole.

In the most recent appeal, Keith’s attorneys argued that prosecutors failed to turn over the personnel file of former Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation forensic scientist Michele Yezzo.

Yezzo’s personnel file showed that she had a history of distorting the truth to please police investigators and help their cases. It also showed that supervisors found her “mentally unstable,” that she threatened to kill co-workers, had racist outbursts and was under internal investigation at the time she testified in Keith’s trial.

The appeals court found that a jury today would likely discount Yezzo’s testimony entirely. It also found that her testimony was of minimal importance to the case and that other evidence presented at trial corroborated her testimony about a car the killer used to drive to and from the scene.

“More importantly, nothing from Yezzo’s file affects the core evidence against Keith,” the appeals ruling said.

Keith’s attorneys also called into question call logs that were never provided to the defense regarding a call from a nurse who, according to police, said one of the surviving victims identified Keith as the shooter.

That evidence was at the core of the prosecutors’ case, as investigators said they first heard Keith’s name from a nurse.

The police call logs, however, do not show any calls from nurses. Keith’s attorneys later found a subpoena for the records in the police case file with the words “ignore for now” written and underlined on the document.

The appeals court said Bucyrus police “grossly mismanaged its records” by failing to record officers’ interactions with victims and their nurses. The judges, however, again found other testimony backed up investigators’ claims that witnesses identified Keith as the shooter.

The “full record here contains significant additional evidence of Keith’s guilt,” the appeals court wrote.

Adam Ferrise covers federal courts at cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer. You can find his work here.

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