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Federal judge refuses to disturb Watertown man’s double-murder conviction

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A federal judge has dismissed a former Watertown man’s claims that he is being unlawfully detained for murdering two sisters in 2005.

Edundabira O. Ojo, 38, is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole at Attica Correctional Facility for stabbing to death sisters Kelly M. Exford, 22, and Shannon M. St. Croix, 24, at an apartment at 735 Cooper St. on April 1, 2005.

He repeatedly has petitioned state and federal courts to overturn the conviction and sentence, arguing, among other things, that errors were made during his Jefferson County Court trial and he was denied effective counsel.

On Monday, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Gary L. Sharpe, Syracuse, dismissed his motion for a writ of habeas corpus in which he maintained he is being incarcerated illegally in violation of his constitutional rights. The judge ruled that Ojo had not proven any of his rights have been violated and declined to issue certification that would allow Ojo to appeal the matter.

Among the findings by the judge in a 30-page decision is that, despite Ojo raising technical arguments regarding his conviction, “he has not proffered any evidence that would make a reasonable jury doubt his guilt.”

Ojo had contended, among other things, that his attorneys with the county’s public defender’s office did not object to a search of his vehicle that ultimately uncovered blood and DNA evidence linking him to the murders and that his appellate attorney similarly failed to raise the issue.

Judge Sharpe concluded that Ojo’s claim that his trial attorneys were ineffective was “meritless” and ruled that there was “probable cause” to execute a search warrant on his vehicle because investigators “had information about his contentious relationship with Exford and that he fled to his friend’s apartment wearing bloody clothes on the night of the killings.”

The judge said that Ojo also had made a series of statements “tacitly admitting” that he had killed Miss Exford and Mrs. St. Croix.

Judge Sharpe said, although the issue of the search warrant was never raised on appeal to the state Appellate Division, Fourth Department, his appellate attorney was effective and that attorney’s legal strategy was “reasonable and sound.” Because the issue over the warrant was not raised on appeal, Judge Sharpe determined that Ojo has not exhausted his state remedies regarding the matter, meaning he could raise it on a subsequent appeal.

However, after refusing to disturb the County Court conviction in a 2007 ruling, the state appellate division has twice denied petitions brought by Ojo to have an appeal of his conviction heard.

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