COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – A woman trying to plead her case, a case that dates back to the mid-1980s, was dealt a blow Monday.
Betty Hines served four years on a felonious assault charge, was released, and went to work. She said her name, signed on a form that ultimately entered the guilty plea, was forged.
That conviction would show up years later and cost her a job.
“I was a home health aide,” Hines said. “I graduated in 2002. In 2013, the law changed. I didn’t do anything wrong, but the law changed, preventing me to work in that healthcare field and because of that, I lost my job.”
In 2014, Hines unsuccessfully filed to have the conviction expunged from her record. She tried a different route in 2020, which is when she said she retrieved documents from the courthouse and saw someone else had signed her name and entered the guilty plea.
“Ever since then, I’ve been seeking to try to find out the truth of what happened, how I was convicted,” she said.
The events of the case date back to August 1985 in an incident that took place inside a duplex on Sherman Avenue in East Columbus, where Hines’ family lived at the time.
According to Franklin County Court Records, Hines, then Betty Albert, used a knife to cause serious harm to her brother, for which she was charged with felonious assault. A judge sentenced her to three to 15 years in the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville. She ended up serving four years.
Hines said she was acting in self-defense.
“Paperwork came to me in 2020 showing that there was a guilty plea contract signed with my name on it and I did not sign it and ever since then, I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of it and find out what happened,” she said.
In 1986, Hines said she had asked for her public defender to get a March hearing rescheduled.
“There’s a court entry that says she appeared in court on March 19,” said attorney Byron Potts, who is currently serving as Hines’ lawyer. “There’s no transcript to show she entered a plea to anything.”
“I told her to please reschedule it because I’m caring for my mother,” Hines said of that March hearing. “I was pregnant, and I had my sons there, and she said, ‘Okay, come in on May the first.’ I said, ‘Okay.’”
While Hines recalls arriving at court on May 1, for what turned out to be a sentencing hearing, the transcript said the hearing took place a day earlier. The signature on the entry of the guilty plea form appears to be Hines’ maiden name, Betty Albert.
“First I thought, ‘I don’t remember this paper. I’ve never seen this paper before,’ and I kept looking at the signature and I kept looking at the signature and I kept looking at it and I…, ‘This is not my signature,’” Hines said.
Hines said she called a private detective who told her to get a polygraph test.
“I did the stress test first and it confirmed I never went to the plea hearing, which I know I didn’t go to, but it also revealed I was telling the truth, that I didn’t sign that paper,” she said.
Hines then hired a handwriting expert.
“The handwriting analysis proved that that was not my signature,” she said.
The test compared Hines’ known signatures throughout the years to the one on the form that led to the guilty plea. The examiner concluded the questioned signature of Betty J. Albert was not written by the same hand that wrote the comparison signatures. The expert goes on to say the questioned signature carries similarities in slant, letter height position, spacing, skill level, and writing fundamentals to the signatures of Doris Clanton, Hines’ public defender.
“There’s something wrong with this,” Potts said. “So if there is something wrong with her, how can she be the only one that this has happened to?”
Because she, according to the signed form, pleaded guilty, Hines didn’t have a chance to defend herself in court.
“I don’t think she got a fair opportunity to present her case,” Potts said.
‘When I lost my job in 2013, it really, really shook my whole world because I lost my job because of this charge and they said I can only come back to work in this field if this charge is removed from my record,” Hines said.
On Monday, the judge denied Hines’ motion to withdraw her plea and have the conviction set aside, saying her claims are “contradictory and defy logic,” and that Hines has had more than 30 years to present her claims.
The judge’s opinion suggests that “If Hines has led a law-abiding life and had no other convictions, perhaps the state and defense could agree on some resolution to allow her to expunge the case if she were allowed to withdraw her plea agreement and plead to some other offense.”
Potts said he’s contacted the prosecutor’s office to begin that conversation. When asked on Tuesday, a spokesperson said the prosecutor’s office has no comment.
Hines’ brother, her public defender, and the case’s original judge are all deceased.