COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An 82-year-old man who was indicted, but never prosecuted, in the nonfatal shooting of an Ohio police officer almost 45 years ago cannot be tried now, a judge ruled Thursday.
The case against Charles Hays fell through the cracks, and prosecutors acknowledged the state neglected the case. But they said he never demanded a speedy trial.
Franklin County Judge Guy Reece dismissed the case Thursday, saying Ohio had at least two opportunities over the past four decades to bring Hays back for trial.
“The right to a speedy trial is a fundament constitutional right,” the judge said.
Columbus police officer Niki Cooper was shot in the left arm in March 1972 when he and his partner interrupted a burglary. Cooper never regained full use of the injured limb, and he died just over three years ago at 71.
Hays was shot twice by Cooper and left a paraplegic, according to court records.
Hays’ attorney, Robert Essex, argued the state missed opportunities to try Hays over the years, violating his constitutional right to a speedy trial.
Two accomplices were charged and pleaded guilty. Both sides agree Hays was properly indicted on counts of intentional shooting, burglary and larceny. What happened afterward is in dispute.
Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien said Hays was aware of the charges even as he continued to commit crimes in Kentucky and Connecticut, where he served time in prison.
Hays was hospitalized for his injuries, first in Columbus, then at a veteran’s hospital in Cleveland. Afterward, he went to Kentucky and ended up in jail where Ohio authorities were notified of his presence and told an ambulance would be needed to collect him.
In the early years after his indictment, Hays highlighted his medical condition as a reason he shouldn’t be returned to the state, prosecutors argue.
The state’s lax approach is illustrated by the fact that Hays has a current Ohio driver’s license he’s renewed twice and has lived at the same address in Dayton for 10 years, Essex said.
Hays is in poor health and unavailable for an interview, Essex said.