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story.lead_photo.caption File Photo/NWA Democrat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE Rico Cohn (right) sits alongside his defense attorney Tony Pirani on Sept 24, 2013, during an appearance in court for capital murder charges.

FAYETTEVILLE -- A federal lawsuit claiming police botched a murder investigation and misled prosecutors and judges was voluntarily dismissed Thursday.

Washington County prosecutors cited insufficient evidence July 1, 2015, when they dropped capital murder charges against Rico Tavarous Cohn. Cohn, who spent three years in jail awaiting trial, was accused of killing 21-year-old Bethany "Nina" Ingram.

Legal lingo

In the formal legal world, a court case that is dismissed with prejudice means it’s dismissed permanently. A case dismissed with prejudice is over and done with, once and for all, and can’t be brought back to court. A case dismissed without prejudice means the case could be refiled.

Source: NWA Democrat-Gazette

Ingram's brother found her body April 22, 2006, on her bed in her Sycamore Street apartment, according to police records.

Autopsy results cited strangulation as the cause of death. The medical examiner said the attack was so sudden and violent Ingram had no time to fight. There were no signs of a sexual assault, and police said there was no sign of forced entry into the apartment.

Tony Pirani, a former deputy public defender who helped win Cohn's release, filed the civil lawsuit. The suit alleged malicious prosecution and civil conspiracy.

An amended version of the lawsuit named Fayetteville; Greg Tabor, former police chief; Scott Carlton, a detective; John Brooks, former civilian crime scene investigator with the department; the Arkansas State Crime Lab; Kermit Channel II, executive director of the crime lab; and Lisa Channel, Phillip Rains and Melissa Myhand, all three analysts with the crime lab.

Both sides agreed to the dismissal. The case was dismissed with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled.

The defendants had earlier filed answers denying any allegations of wrongdoing and asking the case be dismissed.

Brian Wood, an attorney for Tabor, Carlton and Brooks, filed a motion this week seeking sanctions against Pirani and Cohn, saying there was no basis for the claims made in the lawsuit and it served no purpose other than to harass.

"The lawsuit Rico Cohn filed in federal court was meritless. None of his claims were valid. The Fayetteville Police Department conducted an extensive and thorough investigation of the murder of Nina Ingram," Wood said Thursday. "The reason the criminal charges against Rico Cohn were dismissed was because one of the two witnesses died."

Wood's motion said proof existed for the probable cause arrest of Cohn, including two witnesses who told police Cohn confessed that he killed Ingram.

Pirani said Thursday the case isn't frivolous but the motion for sanctions sought to have Cohn pay the defendants' attorney fees, which he said could have been six figures or more.

"While we remain confident in the merits of our claims and the abuses committed here by law enforcement and the Arkansas State Crime Lab, my client ultimately decided that a Rule 11 hearing was a risk he was simply unwilling to take, as it would be adding the ultimate insult to injury if the court were to actually find in the defense's favor and order payment," Pirani said.

Pirani said Cohn plans to put this chapter, including three years in jail charged with capital murder, behind and move on with the rest of his life.

Randee Applewhite told police Cohn told her he killed Ingram. The case against Cohn was dropped after Applewhite died. The defense claimed Applewhite, the prosecution's key witness, recanted her story before her death. Pirani said his side was also counting heavily on the testimony of Applewhite to establish their case.

Police said they believed Ingram was killed because she rebuffed Cohn, who made inappropriate comments to her as she left her apartment five days before her death, according to court records.

Cohn has maintained his innocence throughout, and Pirani said previously the lawsuit amounted to the trial his client didn't get in order to clear his name.

Pirani said Cohn is innocent and whoever killed Ingram is still at large. Pirani said he hopes there might still be justice for the Ingram family.

Photo by Washington County Jail
Rico Cohn

NW News on 02/14/2020

Print Headline: Former murder suspect's malicious prosecution lawsuit dismissed

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