Tyra Patterson a 41 year old Ohio woman, who was falsely accused of being associated with a murder, was released on Christmas eve after spending 22 years in prison.
“Every time someone signed a petition, sent up a prayer...they literally gave me that extra breath to keep moving forward...To sit here with my best friend and my mother is the best part of my Christmas," said Patterson after her release.
Patterson was sentenced to life in prison in 1994, when she was 19, over her unclear involvement in the robbery and murder of a 15 year old girl Michelle Lai.
Since then Patterson has maintained her innocence. Despite the fact she did not fire the shot that killed Lai, Patterson was still imprisoned because of a law in Ohio, which states any robbery leading to a murder can lead to a murder charge for individuals involved in the incident.
Patterson received the longest jail time than anyone involved in the incident - even longer than that issued to LaShawna Keeney, who allegedly fired the fatal shot.
Kelley Johnson, another woman involved in the robbery repeatedly said that Paterson was innocent and she was actually the one who called 911 after Lai was shot dead.
"When I started walking out those doors and realized that nobody was escorting me, that I was really about to be free, I just felt amazing. I can't even put it into words." https://t.co/G6Ew4JlABs— The Marshall Project (@MarshallProj) December 20, 2017
Patterson's case prompted a public campaign for her vindication which drew the attention and support of politicians, celebrities.
Even the victim's sister, Hollie Lai Holbrook who was at the scene of the murder, advocated for Patterson's exoneration. Hollie Lai Holbrook wrote a letter to Ohio Governor John Kasich, telling him trauma and family pressure made her doubt Patterson's innocence for years.
“I knew I was wrong. But I didn’t want to be the black sheep of the family, the odd one out, and I didn’t want to have to relive that night; I just wanted it buried,” she said in an interview with Guardian.
Patterson was released on Christmas Day on parole. She said the last time she stepped in her neighborhood was when she was just a teenager. Also, she got to be by her mother's side after decades.
"I'm so in love with you, mama,." Patterson said during a television interview. She will now work at the Ohio Justice and Policy Center in Dayton after spending a crucial part of her life in prison.
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