Identity of true murderer still a mystery two years after the deadly encounter
By Kate Northrop
CLEVELAND, Ohio — A jury's decision to acquit a former suspect of the murder of a player who had just won $50,000 from a scratch-off lottery ticket was made public yesterday.
Michael Ward Jr., 19, was found not guilty of the murder of his cousin Isaac Carson Jr., a father of two, a barber who worked at Professional Cutters in Euclid, and an aspiring R&B singer who participated in local American Idol auditions. Ward was initially indicted by a Cuyahoga County grand jury in December 2019 on multiple charges, including aggravated murder, murder, aggravated robbery, felonious assault, and kidnapping, but following the presentation of evidence, or lack thereof on the prosecution's part, he was acquitted on all counts.
"I'm feeling blessed," Ward's mother said. "It's been a long two years. We knew that my son was innocent."
The murder took place in the parking lot of Lady Luck Pub & Eatery on Nottingham Road in Cleveland in June 2018. According to Ward, he and two others met Carson there to purchase marijuana.
Surveillance footage captured every moment of the deadly encounter. On the evening of Carson's death, Ward was seen getting out of his car into the front seat of Carson's minivan. Following their transaction, a second person from Ward's car joined them in the back seat of the van. Things quickly went south from there.
"He gets in, and he shuts the door," Ward told the jury. "He's pointing a gun, and he tells Isaac 'you know what time it is,' and then he throws some zip ties over the seat. I just kind of throw them back like 'what are you doing?'"
The van rocked back and forth while a struggle ensued. The man sitting in the back of the car pulled out a gun, but despite Carson and Ward's attempts to get the person to put the gun away, it went off and shot Carson in the back.
The second person immediately got out of the van and ran back to their car. Realizing Carson had been shot, Ward got out too. That was when the unidentified individual ran back to Carson's car to shoot him again. The three suspects, including Ward, drove off, leaving Carson behind at the parking lot.
Despite there being more than one person at the scene of Carson's murder, Ward was the only person charged in connection with his death. Cleveland police detectives and prosecutors pointed the finger at him because they had suspected Carson's $50,000 prize from a scratch-off lottery ticket made him a target in Ward's eyes. They also referred to Ward's DNA found on a handle to the back seat of Carson's van and the zip ties scattered in the front and back seats of the car.
However, Ward defended himself by explaining that he was a person in the wrong place at the wrong time who had no idea about the impending violence that was to come. The shooter had thrown the zip ties in the front seat to get Ward to participate in an attempted robbery, but he refused to comply.
"I just basically told them, 'why didn't y'all tell me that was what y'all was going to do?'" Ward recalled him telling the other suspects. "I didn't know what was going on."
The evidence presented by prosecutors was not enough to prove that Ward had killed or robbed Carson. While Common Pleas Court Judge Sherrie Miday threw out two counts of aggravated robbery and one count of aggravated murder, jurors acquitted Ward of all other counts after a full day of deliberation.
"We hope that the police will continue to investigate and try to find out who is truly responsible for the loss of Isaac Carson's life," Ward's attorney, Jeffrey Saffold stated.
Investigators have also not yet located the gun used in the murder and weren't able to find any witnesses who could definitively label Ward as the killer.
"I was confused," Ward said. "I didn't know why everything happened the way it happened and why so fast. I just didn't want to be in the middle of it. I didn't want Isaac to think I had anything to do with it. I was scared."
"We always believed that there was more than one," Victoria Moore, the mother of Carson said before the jury's ruling. "We definitely believed that and that is was a set up."