After Nearly Six Years in Jail Because of Unaffordable Bail, Kentucky Man Acquitted of Capital Murder

A Kentucky man who languished in jail for nearly six years because of bail he could not afford has been acquitted of capital murder and related charges. Eugene “Red” Mitchell (pictured) faced the death penalty on charges that he had raped, sodomized, and murdered Sheila Devine, a Louisville grandmother. On September 18, 2019, a Jefferson County jury found Mitchell not guilty of all charges against him. He had spent five years, eight months and ten days in pretrial custody, unable to post a quarter-million dollar cash bond.

“They wanted to kill me for something I knew I didn’t do,” Mitchell said. “It is the most terrifying thing in the world.”

Angie Elleman, one of the public defenders who represented Mitchell, called the capital prosecution “an extreme waste of resources.” The wrongful murder charges and prolonged incarceration also exacted an extreme personal toll on Mitchell. His health dramatically deteriorated during his time in jail. He experienced severe depression, gained 100 pounds, and had to have 13 teeth extracted. While he was in custody, Mitchell was evicted from his home and lost his possessions. Although the jury verdict set him free, he is now homeless.

Mitchell’s case is the second consecutive death-penalty trial in which a Jefferson County defendant has been acquitted. In March 2018, a jury found Charles Washington not guilty of all charges in a fatal home invasion. Steve Bright, the former president of the Southern Center for Human Rights, described acquittals in capital cases as very rare and said the two consecutive acquittals indicate that Commonwealth Attorney Tom Wine’s office “obviously has made huge miscalculations” in the selection of death-penalty cases.

The prosecution claimed that Mitchell committed the crime with co-defendant Guy Marcus Allen, whose trial is still pending. DNA evidence suggests that Allen, not Mitchell, sexually assaulted Devine. Mitchell’s DNA was found in Devine’s apartment, but in places his attorneys described as “innocuous,” such as on the vodka bottle he had shared with Devine the day before her attack. The prosecution claimed that Mitchell knew details about the crime that supposedly were known only to police and the killer, but facts about the case had quickly become the subject of gossip in the neighborhood where Devine and Mitchell lived. A prosecution witness told the jury that Mitchell had been bleeding from his neck after the killing, possibly indicating a struggle with the victim. However, surveillance video from the store in which Mitchell worked debunked that testimony. The prosecution also failed to prove that Mitchell and Allen had been in Devine’s apartment at the same time, and the defense presented evidence that the two men did not even know each other.

After his acquittal, Mitchell told the Louisville Courier-Journal, “It’s over with. I can’t cry over spilt milk. I’ve got to get on with my life.”