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Marine vet released from prison after 45 years for wife’s 1974 slaying that he says he didn’t commit

A gavel cracks down. (Airman 1st Class Aspen Reid/U.S. Air Force)

Isiah Andrews, 82, walked out of prison Wednesday afternoon for the first time in 45 years after being granted a new trial in the 1974 slaying of his wife.

Andrews, who has long maintained his innocence in the slaying, wore a suit and a checkered face mask printed with roosters as he stepped out of the Richland Correctional Institution two days after a judge in Cuyahoga County granted him bail while he awaits a new trial.

The Cincinnati-based Ohio Innocence Project took on Andrews’ case in 2015 and discovered that police and the county prosecutors’ office never gave Andrews or his lawyers copies of police reports that originally pinned the killing of his wife on another man.

Common Pleas Court Judge Robert McClelland last week overturned Andrews’ conviction and ordered a new trial based on the violation, which he found deprived Andrews of exculpatory evidence and cast doubt on the outcome of the original trial.

Andrews, a salesman and Marine Corps veteran, married Regina Andrews in late August 1974 and the two rented an efficiency room at the Colonial House Motel on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland as they searched for a permanent place to live, according to court records.

Isiah Andrews told police he left the hotel to run errands on the morning of Sept. 18, 1974, and that Regina Andrews was gone when he returned, records say. He called his mother-in-law to the hotel room when his wife didn’t return by 10 p.m. and the two eventually called police to report her missing.

A passerby found Regina Andrews’ body the next day in Forest Hills Park, stabbed several times in the torso and wrapped in bedding from several hotels, including the Colonial House and Howard Johnson Motor Inn in University Circle, according to records. Maids said the two hotels shared the same linen service and it was common for linens from one hotel to end up in the other, records say. Police said she appeared to have been sexually assaulted and noted there were several bloody copies of The Plain Dealer near her body that featured a front-page story about a city-wide prostitution crackdown, records say.

No physical evidence ever tied Isiah Andrews to the crime. He was convicted based largely on the testimony of two women whose stories shifted over time. One, a Colonial House employee, originally told police that she saw Isiah Andrews leave the room with a large bag and return later wearing the same clothes. She took the stand and said, for the first time, that she peaked into his room while he was leaving and saw the bedding was missing from the sheets. She testified that she decided to make the disclosure because she became upset at an investigator working for Andrews’ defense team who asked her questions about being engaged in prostitution.

Another woman, who lived in the room next door to the Andrews, originally told police she heard nothing out of the ordinary from the couple’s room, but later changed her story and said she heard Andrews threaten to kill his wife the night before her death.

A jury convicted Andrews of aggravated murder and a judge sentenced him to life in prison.

The Innocence Project began investigating his case in 2015 and later discovered the existence of a police report that detailed several pieces of evidence that police used to arrest another man for the killing. That man, William Watts,rented a room at the Howard Johnson Motor Inn the night before Regina Andrews’ death and staff told police they noticed his bedding was missing when he checked out the next morning, records say. Watts’ mother lives five blocks from where Regina Andrews’ body was discovered and she told police that Watts broke into her home and stole some items that same day, the report says.

The county coroner’s office originally estimated that Regina Andrews died in the middle of the night, and police moved off of Watts when he was able to provide an alibi for those hours and focused on Isiah Andrews as the suspect, records said.

However, the coroner’s office later changed the estimated time of death to between 9 a.m. and noon, and police never revisited Watts as a potential suspect, records say.

Watts, who died in 2011, was convicted three times of charges stemming from attacks on women, two of which involved accusations that he used a knife on them.


© 2020 The Plain Dealer