For the twenty-second consecutive year, Tyra Patterson will spend Christmas in prison for crimes she didn’t commit. It’s time for Governor Kasich to grant this woman clemency.
In 1994, when she was 19, Tyra was in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the wee hours of a September morning, Tyra and her friend took a walk and wound up embroiled in a robbery that ended in the murder of 15-year-old Michelle Lai. Tyra left before any gunfire; but police arrested and subjected her to abusive questioning. By the end, they had a confession. A false one. Tyra wasn’t the only young woman who succumbed to the state’s will. Holly Lai Holbrook, the victim’s sister, says police and prosecutors were intimidating and urged her to say what was necessary to put Tyra behind bars.
But the truth that Holly shared at the scene was that Tyra was a bystander. That Tyra played no part in harassing, stealing, or shooting that took her sister.
Now, after living with the contradiction between what she said in court and what she told the police that night, Holly has come forward to recant her testimony, even going so far as writing a letter to Governor Kasich.This important development comes after extensive work by David Singleton (my husband, as a matter of full disclosure) and his colleagues at the Ohio Justice & Policy Center, uncovering other critical evidence never presented at trial. For example, Tyra called 911 to summon help for Michelle Lai. Unbelievably her trial attorneys chose not to introduce the tape of the call. Six jurors, who heard the tape for the first time three years ago, said such evidence would have caused them to vote not guilty.
As the fact of Tyra’s innocence becomes clearer and clearer, she has gained such supporters as actors Alfre Woodard, Colman Domingo, and Hill Harper; scholar activists Bryan Stevenson and Michelle Alexander; as well as government officials, including Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, State Senator Peggy Lehner, former Congresswoman Jean Schmidt, and former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro. Petro’s wife Nancy recently wrote an op-ed urging Governor Kasich to grant Tyra clemency.
After more than two decades in prison, Tyra could be angry and bitter. She personifies mass incarceration as a poor woman of color. Lacking financial resources, Tyra had no lawyer at her side during the relentless and abusive police interrogation. The attorneys ultimately appointed to her failed to present critical evidence that would have led to an acquittal. But, rather than dwell on the past, Tyra has focused on moving forward. A sixth grade dropout when convicted, Tyra now has her GED and is certified to repair boilers. She has also earned a paralegal certificate. With her impressive artistic talents, Tyra creates beaded jewelry that she sends to homeless shelters and gives freely to others–including me. Upon release, she wants to help young people.
Tyra’s case is yet another example of the dysfunction of our criminal justice system. Living at the intersection of race, poverty, and gender put her on the path to incarceration. Governor Kasich can turn this around and right a terrible wrong.
If you want to join the movement to bring Tyra home, check out Justice for Tyra. And feel free to contact Governor Kasich directly at 614-466-3555.
Twenty-two years is long enough.