Blind Rage: The Unthinkable

Blind Rage: The Unthinkable

Blind Rage: The Unthinkable

It’s hard to explain how I feel. Even though I knew this day might come.

Am I stunned? Yeah.

Sad? Yeah, I am achingly sad.

I told you, in the final episode of Blind Rage, Season 1, there was a chance the man convicted of brutalizing Phyllis Cottle could get out of prison.

Today, I can tell you that – for sure. There is a … chance.

There has been a new development in the case – a potential bombshell.

The Ohio Innocence Project has asked for DNA tests on evidence that was recently discovered in a storage bin in Tallmadge, Ohio.

The Innocence Project claims that evidence may show that Samuel J. Herring did not brutalize Phyllis Cottle. That police got the wrong man. That prosecutors, the judge, the jury, all got it wrong.

That Samuel J. Herring is…innocent.

If that’s true, Herring, has spent nearly 40 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

Herring told the Marshall Project, as he has asserted for the past 40 years, that he never met Phyllis. That it was a case of mistaken identity. That he did not do this.

I knew this day might come.

In 2021, after a friend of mine requested records from the Summit County Prosecutor’s office, he discovered we were not the only people re-examining Phyllis’ case.

There it was in black and white – Mark Godsey, the co-founder and director of the Ohio Innocence Project – requested public records in regards to the case against Samuel J. Herring.

I decided not to divulge the information unless the Innocence Project filed a legal brief or, requested DNA tests.

I wanted to tell Phyllis’ story. Like I told you early on, I am no longer objective when it comes to Phyllis.

She is – and remains my superhero.

If there is evidence Herring did not hurt Phyllis – he should be freed. Full stop.

Still, Phyllis Cottle did her job. She survived. And she forced herself to remember every indignity she suffered while to lead police to that horrible house where she was raped. She kept her cool – after a suicide attempt – in court. She told her story. She did not lie.

It was up to Akron detectives and Summit County prosecutors after that.

From the get-go – it was a difficult case. There wasn’t a victim who could point to a perpetrator and say, “I did it.”

That did not faze former Summit County Prosecutor Bob Bulford, who prosecuted Herring. He told me he had no doubt that Herring was “the guy.”

Bulford said he based the case on circumstantial evidence.

There was some physical evidence, but not much. DNA testing was rather primitive in 1984 and often not dependable.

That said, some physical evidence was introduced in court, although the Innocence Project says the forensic science used in the case was “junk science.”

There were similar fibers found on both Phyllis’ and Herring’s jacket.

There were hairs found on the bindings and clothes that were similar to Herring’s.

There was contaminated semen found on white fabric from the scene.

This is, what I think, is being tested for DNA. A white towel with contaminated semen.

This is, what I think, is being tested for DNA. A white towel with contaminated semen.

But the big-ticket items for prosecutors:

An eyewitness who positively identified Herring in court. Chili Mo, aka Ralph Nelson, told the jury he saw Herring, with a gym bag, acting nervous, at the 1286 Bar not far from the crime scene. That ID led police to a cab driver who dropped-off an anxious man near the parole office.

Herring was at the parole office that day - carrying a gym bag that he refused to bring into his parole officer’s office.

The most damning clue: Herring’s family owned the house where Phyllis was attacked.

Still. DNA is powerful.

I know the crime lab is testing 5-7 items stored, for decades, in Tallmadge, Ohio. They white cloth, wire, and Phyllis’ clothes. If the tests come back inconclusive, the Innocence Project will test 8-15 more items.

Phyllis wore these clothes the day she was attacked.

Detectives believed whatever was in this can may have been used to contaminate evidence

So … what could this all mean?

My legal guide: former prosecutor Emily Pelphry says, “If The Innocence Project filed papers in this case, it would not surprise me. And I think that people need to understand that when they do this, a lot of times it goes nowhere. And sometimes it just means, "You know what? We've looked at this case, we think it's worth another go-ahead." It doesn't mean that anything necessarily is going to happen.”

The Ohio Innocence Project’s Mark Godsey, sees it differently. He told the Marshall Project, “The benefit of hindsight brings new light to this case. This is the opportunity to make sure justice is served.”

Like I told you, I chose not to publicly share ALL that I knew about the Innocence Project because if the Innocence Project decided to drop the case I did not want to inflict un-necessary pain on Phyllis’ family. And, believe me, they are in an awful place.

Phyllis’ family sat down with Summit County prosecutors so they could explain what ‘new evidence’ the Innocence Project has that might free Samuel Herring – or at least cast reasonable doubt about those guilty verdicts.

Is it possible everybody got it wrong?

And, if everybody did get it wrong, who attacked Phyllis?

I’ll continue to look into this case.

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The shocking revelation of a DNA test turning the tables on the Ohio Innocence Project's claim of Samuel J. Herring's innocence, exposing a 39-year-old crime, and exploring the complexities of self-delusion in the criminal mind in the latest episode of Blind Rage.

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