Prisoner Acquitted Of Escape After Prosecutors Can’t Prove Location of Prison

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LOGAN — Based on an error that the Hocking County Prosecutor’s Office was unable to correct in court, a convicted murderer who fled from Hocking Correctional Institution on March 27, 2016, has been acquitted of a felony escape charge.

John Modie, 59, was indicted on April 26, 2016 after escaping from the Correctional Institution but during a jury trial Tuesday in Hocking County Common Pleas Court, defense attorney Dorian Baum requested the case be dismissed based on Rule 29, which is a motion for a judgment of acquittal and Judge John Wallace had no choice but to rule in favor of Modie.

This motion came after Hocking County Assistant Prosecutor Jordan Meadows rested the state’s case following the testimony of four witnesses. Rule 29 states that the judge must enter a judgment of acquittal of any offense for which the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction. In this case, Baum made the request based on the prosecutor’s office’s failure to establish that the crime occurred within the office’s jurisdiction in Hocking County.

“He (Baum) asked for a motion to dismiss because we failed to prove that the (prison) facility was in Hocking County,” stated Hocking County Prosecutor Ben Fickel. “We tried to fix that error in the courtroom, unfortunately we were unable to do that.”

“What this conclusion … so perfectly demonstrates is that everyone — whether the person is one who has never received a parking ticket or one who is likely to spend the rest of their life in prison — deserves a fair and just trial in which the state is required to prove every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt,” wrote Baum in a prepared statement sent to The Logan Daily News after the trial.

“Throughout this case, the state had every opportunity to submit evidence and provide testimony from the witnesses of their choosing and at the conclusion of the case, the court correctly recognized that they had simply failed to meet their burden, even after the court provided them a second opportunity subsequent to the close of their case,” Baum added.

Jurors appeared puzzled as Wallace announced that he had no recourse other than to grant Baum’s motion after Investigator Jeremy Jewell was recalled to the witness stand and asked where the Hocking Correctional Institution is located — which county. Jewell, who sometimes works at the prison, was uncertain, as he noted that he is not familiar with other counties outside of Fairfield County.

Jewell not being able to answer and the prosecution not establishing through other testimony that the Hocking Correctional Institution is in Hocking County, gave Baum the opening he needed to have his client acquitted.

Modie’s escape was noticed after he was not counted as part of the 9 p.m. head count at the prison on March 27, 2016, according to witnesses for the prosecution.

Corrections Officer Logan Mohler; Lt. Keith Holstein; Trooper James D. Hannon; and Jewell provided testimony for the prosecutor’s office. All testified that Modie was missing from the 9 p.m. head count; however, he could have been in another area of the prison so the head count was considered good. It wasn’t until almost 11 p.m. that night when they realized Modie was not on the premises.

Both attorneys questioned the witnesses regarding complaints being filed by Modie of an assault, harassment and the cleanliness of the facility. Witnesses stated they could not remember receiving complaints from Modie, and Mohler was the only witness that vaguely remembered an alleged assault.

Law enforcement from the Ohio State Highway Patrol, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and local entities worked together in the search for Modie. He was found near an abandoned gas station off Canal Street in Nelsonville and was taken into custody without incident.

Although Modie was acquitted of the escape charge, he remains incarcerated in a Youngstown prison for an unrelated murder conviction on which he received an 18-to-life prison sentence for the death of Uciannia Ortiz in Cuyahoga County.

According to The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, Ortiz’s body was found by a security guard in October of 2002 behind an abandoned warehouse located near Interstate 90. Ortiz had gone missing two days before her body was found.

The Plain Dealer reported that investigators determined Ortiz had been killed at Modie’s home in Cleveland, and the body disposed of at the warehouse. The cause of death was ruled as blunt force trauma to the head.

*The Athens Messenger is a multi-media news organization that serves Athens County and parts of the surrounding counties in Southeast Ohio. Visit for more news and sports. WOUB and The Messenger have a limited content sharing partnership.*