A decade ago, a young couple, Andrew and Joanne Zavala, was arrested and charged with drug possession, which was later dismissed as a “false accusation.”
The case went to trial, where the prosecution portrayed Andrew Zavalas as a drug dealer, not a drug user.
But now that the case is behind them, the Zavals have a new case: the Franklin County, Ohio, murder record.
Andrew Zavalas, 29, and JoAnne Zavalyas, 25, were sentenced to death in October.
Andrew was found guilty of murdering his wife, then later, his daughter.
But in January, an appeals court reversed the conviction, ruling the prosecution failed to prove that Andrew Zavaas committed the murder because he was not a violent drug user, and instead blamed the murder on an unspecified drug dependency.
“We believe the evidence is insufficient to prove the guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” wrote a three-judge panel in Franklin County Common Pleas Court.
A spokesperson for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office told The Washington Times that the office was reviewing the decision.
Prosecutors have argued that Andrew’s conviction was tainted by the “false allegation” theory.
Andrew and his attorney declined to comment for this story.
The state’s highest court recently overturned the ruling, ruling that prosecutors had failed to produce evidence that proved the Zavalais were drug addicts.
In August, Franklin County District Judge David W. Fiske vacated Andrew Zavoras’ conviction, calling the defense’s assertion that Andrew was a drug addict “without foundation.”
Prosecutors, who were still appealing the conviction last year, had argued that the prosecution had failed “to demonstrate beyond a fair doubt” that Andrew had been a drug abuser.
They also said the trial attorney had failed in his duty to present a fair defense.
“While there is some merit to the defense argument that Andrew did not possess an actual or substantial amount of drugs, it is not supported by the record,” the judges wrote in their decision.
The judge also said there was evidence of “wanton misconduct” on the part of prosecutor William H. Anderson, who was assigned to the case, which the judge said “does not provide the requisite level of probative force” in a death penalty case.
“The record demonstrates that the prosecutor’s office has been engaged in misconduct from the very beginning,” the judge wrote.
Andrew’s lawyers, John L. Pinto and Daniel M. Pascarella, said in a statement to The Washington City Paper that the decision “is disappointing and should serve as a warning to all prosecutors in Ohio who engage in this kind of prosecutorial misconduct.”
The ruling “calls into question the credibility of the prosecution’s case and raises serious questions about the fairness of the trial,” they said.
In an interview with The Washington Free Beacon, Andrew Zabadals’ father, Peter Zavalias, said he was disappointed that the judge had overturned his son’s conviction.
“I thought it was a terrible decision, but I’m glad it’s over,” he said.
The court decision came at a time of increased scrutiny of Ohio’s drug policies.
The number of Ohio drug cases that are pending in the state rose to a record 3,854 in 2017, according to the Ohio Department of Criminal Justice.
And while that number was down from 2016, the state still ranked the worst in the nation for drug cases, with 571 of the 5,974 drug convictions in 2017.
But the state has also been facing a growing number of drug-related deaths, with one of the largest numbers of such cases recorded last year.
At least 19 Ohioans have been killed by drugs in 2017 so far, up from 12 in 2016.
The spike in Ohio drug-death cases has put pressure on state lawmakers to rethink how to prosecute drug crimes.
Last year, Ohio was ranked No. 2 on a list of the top states for drug prosecutions.
John Kasich, a Republican, is proposing changes to the way the state prosecutes drug crimes that include allowing the state attorney general to decide whether or not a case goes forward.
“As the attorney general of Ohio, it’s my duty to protect the public, protect the lives of our citizens, protect our families, and protect our children,” Kasich said at a news conference announcing the plan last month.
“It’s my job to determine what the best approach is to pursue a case, whether it be a conviction or not.
And I will use every tool available to me to make that determination.”
Ohio lawmakers also have been pushing back against the state, which has one of Ohios highest incarceration rates, at 2.4 million people.
“These people are going to have to pay for it,” said State Representative Matt Biernat, a Democrat from Columbus.
“If they’re going to do it, they better pay for the