CLEVELAND (CN) – An Ohio man faced malicious prosecution after TNT’s “Cold Justice” falsely depicted him as a murderer, the man claims in Federal Court.
The complaint filed Friday comes just over three months after a jury acquitted the plaintiff, Steven Noffsinger, for the death of his ex-wife Alma Noffsinger in Oakwood, Ohio.
Noffsinger says the couple was recently divorced when she was found dead in her home on the morning of Dec. 17, 1981.
Though the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office considered Noffsinger as a person of interest during the initial investigation, Noffsinger was not arrested or charged with a crime at that time, according to the complaint.
Other than the bedroom where the homicide occurred, Alma’s house was undisturbed, and there was no evidence of forced entry, burglary or sexual assault in the initial investigation, Noffsinger says.
With Noffsinger cooperating in the initial investigation, submitting himself to interrogation and searches, police collected two articles of clothing from his home as physical evidence, according to the complaint.
Noffsinger notes that a forensic examination in 1982 nevertheless determined that “nothing was found on the samples [of evidence] which were associated with foreign materials from a possible assailant.”
Investigators had collected approximately 26 different pieces of evidence at the time of Alma’s death, but all of that physical evidence was either destroyed or lost by the time “Cold Justice” began its investigation in June 2014, hoping to resurrect the cold case.
Noffsinger claims that the show’s investigators and host presented their conclusion – that he had committed the 1981 murder – to the sheriff’s office, and that they warned “that the television production would not be published unless an indictment was filed.”
Sure enough, a grand jury was convened, and Noffsinger was arrested on Aug. 1, 2015, after that jury returned an indictment against him for Alma’s murder.
Noffsinger says Turner Network Television aired its “Cold Justice” episode about the case on Aug. 8, about a week after Paulding County Sheriff Jason Landers issued a defamatory press release about him.
That press release offered no possible motive for why Noffsinger would have killed his wife, and it providing no details about the evidence presented to the grand jury, according to the complaint.
Noffsinger says he was incarcerated for 264 days before a five-day jury trial resulted in the not-guilty verdict.
When they gave the “Cold Justice” crew unbridled access to the 1981 case, Sheriff Landers and his deputies, Robert Garcia and Brion Hanenkratt, were “aware of the destroyed or lost evidence, of plaintiff’s voluntary Consent to Search; and the written chemist’s findings from” the original investigation, the complaint states.
“Yet these defendants maliciously defamed plaintiff and in reckless disregard of plaintiff’s civil rights, presented plaintiff in a false light as the murderer of Alma Noffsinger, and never presented any of the exculpatory evidence during the ‘Cold Justice’ television production,” the complaint states.
Noffsinger says the “Cold Justice” crew conducted only brief interviews of two people identified as potential suspects during the 1981-82 investigation. Though one of those individuals had failed a polygraph test at that time, she was dismissed as a suspect for the television program’s investigation, according to the complaint.
The episode about Alma’s murder starred host Kelly Siegler, a Houston, Texas, woman who “purports to be a former prosecutor,” plus crime-scene investigator Yolanda McClary and homicide investigator Alan Brown, according to the complaint.
“Acting under color of state law, defendants Landers, Garcia and Hanenkratt in conjunction with the participation of and at the direction of defendants Siegler, McClary and Brown prosecuted and arrested plaintiff upon criminal charges when they knew, or should have known, that plaintiff was not the perpetrator of the homicide and were without probable cause to forward the case to the Paulding County, Ohio Prosecuting Attorney for presentation to the Paulding County Grand Jury and resultant indictment,” the complaint states.
Noffsinger says each of these individuals acted with malice and for the express purpose of obtaining publicity.
“The production, taken as a whole, leaves the unmistakable impression with the audience that the plaintiff is a killer and, specifically, that he was the perpetrator in the murder of Alma Noffsinger, without ever mentioning that the state of Ohio determined not to pursue the matter with the evidence it had in 1981, which was more than the evidence presented in the production,” the complaint states.
In addition to TNT and the aforementioned individuals, Noffsinger names as defendants the production companies, Wolf Films Inc. and Magical Elves Inc.
TNT has not returned a request for comment.
Noffsinger is represented by Michael Rumer with Rumer & Maisch in Lima, Ohio.
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