An Ohio woman who spent nearly 23 years in prison for a crime that she didn’t commit has finally been released.
On Christmas day, 42-year-old Tyra Patterson took her first steps of freedom when she walked out of Cleveland’s Northeast Pre-Release Center after having spent nearly 23 years in prison on a life sentence.
“It felt real when I kissed the ground," Patterson told Fox 45. "When I kissed my freedom and thanked God, that's when I knew I was free."
Patterson was convicted of the 1994 robbery and murder of 15-year-old Michelle Lai in Dayton, Ohio, when she was only 19. While she hadn’t been the one to fire the shot that had killed Lai, under an Ohio law accomplices can be handed the same punishment as killers. She has always maintained her innocence.
Patterson received support from the community, celebrities, politicians, and social media after Michelle Lai’s sister, Holly Lai Hollbrook, came forward last year to say that Patterson hadn’t been involved in the murder, begging those handling the case to release her. In October 2017, she received the news that she’d been granted parole.
Now, Patterson plans to move into her own apartment in Cincinnati and has obtained a job at the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, the same agency that has helped fight her case.
While Patterson hasn’t been exonerated of the crime, she has petitioned the state for clemency.