Tyra Patterson was just one more inmate in an Ohio jail. Convicted of robbery and the murder of 15-year old Michelle Lai in Dayton in 1994, the crime is still shrouded in mystery.
But Patterson had maintained her innocence for 23 years. She was convicted at the age of 19 because she was believed to have been with a group of teens who were all part of the crime.
Since her conviction, Patterson fought an ongoing battle to clear her name and overturn a life sentence.
Now her freedom comes from a very unlikely source.
Patterson had always claimed that she was coerced into making a false confession and that she was an innocent bystander on the night of the crime.
There had been a mounting campaign for her release.
Several celebrities had joined her fight for freedom, including filmmaker Ken Burns and actress Alfre Woodard. But her strongest supporter turned out to be the victim’s sister, Holly Lai Holbrook.
“I remember the fact that there was somebody there who I didn’t think did anything. I remember pointing her out to the police,” said Lai Holbrook of Patterson.
She had wanted to speak out but was worried about how her family would react.
In 2016, Holbrook decided to write a letter to the governor regarding Patterson’s innocence. At 41, Patterson was granted clemency and became a free woman.
“Holly Lai is a hero, and she has been an advocate for me,” said Patterson, completely filled with joy.
On Christmas Day, she ran from the prison where her family waited for her.
Patterson’s story encompasses many incarcerated women. Many are poorly represented at trial or are discriminated against.
Patterson must now adjust to life on the outside, but she’s already had a great start. She decided that what she wanted to do most was to help others in her situation.
She began working for the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, the organization responsible for helping her find her freedom.
She also hopes to help other parolees find jobs and homes, something that can be difficult for them.
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