In this month’s episode of Discussions with DPIC, Managing Director Anne Holsinger speaks with Lamont Hunter (pictured), a former Ohio death-sentenced prisoner who was wrongfully convicted of causing the death of his three-year-old son. After nearly 18 years of incarceration, Mr. Hunter was released from Ohio’s death row on June 15, 2023, after pleading guilty to lesser charges in exchange for his freedom. Since his release, Mr. Hunter has spoken widely about his experience with the criminal legal system and the dangers of wrongful convictions.

Mr. Hunter describes the events in January 2006, when his girlfriend’s son, Trustin, fell down the basement stairs as he was doing laundry. “I panicked; I’m scared. I rushed over to him, grab him, and yell his name…he hit his head, which he ultimately died from the head trauma that he sustained from the fall,” Mr. Hunter said. Mr. Hunter said he was frantic to save Trustin, performing CPR and calling for help. At the hospital, Mr. Hunter was approached by homicide detectives and was eventually arrested and charged with aggravated murder and child endangerment, which later escalated to include a rape charge. He was shocked by the additional rape charge, which stemmed from unexplained injuries.

After 21 months in county jail and a trial, Mr. Hunter was convicted and sentenced to death, and says “it was the worst time of my life.” Mr. Hunter described the lengthy and challenging appeals process and highlighted the difficulties of obtaining justice in state courts due to political pressures on judges. “No judge wants to appear soft on crime while they’re campaigning for their seat on the bench,” Mr. Hunter said. “And then you have these prosecutor’s offices who donate to their campaigns, you know, and help them…win their seats on the bench. So, it’s a lot of… I won’t say quid pro quo, but there’s a lot of scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours, sort of, you know, in politics.” Mr. Hunter’s appeals in state courts were ultimately unsuccessful, but during his federal habeas appeal, the judge granted him access to discovery, which allowed his legal team to obtain previously withheld evidence. “A federal judge and federal courts are more likely to listen to your argument and if your argument is valid, grant you the relief that you deserve to have,” said Mr. Hunter.

Defense counsel later discovered during habeas proceedings that the injuries attributed to rape were actually caused by a nurse’s efforts to take Trustin’s core body temperature amidst the efforts of ICU staff to save his life. Subsequently, the medical examiner responsible for Trustin’s autopsy changed her opinion on the cause of death. After presenting this evidence to the court, Mr. Hunter was granted a motion for a new trial. Prosecutors offered Mr. Hunter an initial plea deal, which he turned down, but after failing to meet the bond set for his release, Mr. Hunter agreed to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment.

Since his release from jail in June 2023, Mr. Hunter has faced many challenges in his day-to-day life. Mr. Hunter acknowledges that while he was fortunate enough to have a place to stay when he was released, noting that most formerly incarcerated people struggle to obtain housing, health insurance, and general financial assistance. “Coming back to the city I was born and raised … A lot of things are different,” Mr. Hunter said. He also said that while there are organizations dedicated to helping people like himself, they are largely overwhelmed and underfunded. “These organizations need funding to help people in situations as reentering society after… serving their debt to society if they’re guilty or if they’re innocent and [those] exonerated and don’t get compensation like [me], are still in need of these resources,” said Mr. Hunter.*


*Revised June 3, 2024