Convicted killer in legal battle with Columbus police

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It was a murder that sent shock waves across central Ohio.

Now, a group that works to free the innocent is demanding to crack open the case file of a convicted killer.

Adam Saleh is facing 38 years to life in prison for the murder of Julie Popovich in 2005.

The 20 year old’s body was found near Hoover Reservoir several weeks after two witnesses said she left a bar with Saleh.

Now, he’s asking the Ohio Innocence Project to take on his case. OIP's Donald Caster says at this time the group has no opinion on Saleh's guilt or innocence. 

"Right now we want to say let us conduct an investigation as a third party,” Caster said.

But Caster says that's impossible because Columbus police refuse to release investigative records in murder cases. The Ohio Innocence Project is suing CPD for access to the files.

The Ohio Supreme Court heard arguments from both sides Wednesday.

Attorneys for CPD argue it's illegal to release records until all chances of appeal are exhausted, usually when the defendant is dead.

Dean Gillespie spent 20 years in prison for rape, robbery and kidnapping before he says investigative case files helped set him free.

The Ohio Innocence Project helped exonerate Gilespie in December 2011. He says he doesn't understand why police won't turn over the records.

"If they feel like they have the right person in prison and they done the right work and the right thing, then why wouldn't you turn your files over and let it be proven by a third party?” Gillespie said.

The Ohio Innocence Project says since 2003, its exonerated 23 wrongfully convicted inmates but says it can't challenge convictions if it can't access information.

Prosecutors presented a mound of physical evidence against Saleh including an eyewitness who saw him leave the bar with the victim and incriminating handwritten letters and cell phone records.

The Ohio Innocence Project says it's certainly possible, perhaps even likely, a review of the Saleh case file will reveal nothing new, but it's asking the Ohio Supreme Court for the right to look.

“We're just trying to decide if and whether we should and can help an inmate,” Caster said. 

Since the Ohio Innocence Project was founded in 2003, it's received more than 8,000 requests from inmates to review cases.

OIP says it’s taken on less than 40 of those requests.