Finally home, finally free.
Nikita Srivastava (’19)
Today Ru-El Sailor is a free man, after spending 15 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. Over the years, Sailor continuously maintained and fought to prove his innocence. Then, finally, on March 28, 2018, the Cuyahoga County Court vacated his sentence.
How Sailor got Wrongly Convicted
In November 2002, Sailor was hanging out with his friends at a bar on the East Side of Cleveland. Across town, Nicole and Cordell Hubbard got into a dispute with Omar Clark . The matter got out of hands – threats, guns, and then shots rang out, leaving Clark dead. Cuyahoga County prosecutors roped in Sailor who Cordell Hubbard’s best friend at the time, wrongly believing that Sailor was the second man in this fatal shooting. Sailor testified that he was not the shooter nor was involved in this violent outburst. However, after a trial that included shady eye witness testimony that could not place Sailor at the scene, a jury still convicted Sailor. The court sentenced him to 28 years to life with the possibility of parole.
Making the Case for Sailor’s Innocence
Sailor maintained his innocence throughout his conviction and time in prison. Eventually, his pleas made their way to the Conviction Integrity Unit in Cleveland and the Ohio Innocence Project in Cincinnati.
Andrew Radin (’18) and Ruby Wilz (’18) were the first OIP student-fellows to work on Sailor’s case. Radin knew three pages into Sailor’s case file that Sailor was innocent. “The actual shooter admitted to the crime, and Ru-El was not even at the scene of the crime. Also, a friend of Ru-El’s came forward, stating Ru-El was not there,” Radin told me. Furthermore, his co-defendant testified at sentencing and had written several affidavits saying he wasn’t there. After Sailor met with OIP Staff Attorney Jennifer Bergeron, OIP agreed to represent him in the fall of 2016 with attorney Kimberly Corral who worked on his case for 5 years.
Sailor’s wonderfully fierce fiancé, Amy Spence, brought a lot of attention to Sailor’s case. She talked about Sailor’s case at town hall meetings, bringing light to Sailor’s wrongful conviction.. Before his exoneration, fellows Radin and Wilz had all the information they needed to prove his innocence. All they had to do was wait for the court to make a decision. Throughout the year, Sailor’s belief in their abilities kept Radin and Wilz going. After their fellowship ended, the case then became OIP fellows Caitlyn Idoine (’19) and Jesse Knowlden (’19). Eventually the fellows hard-work paid off – Sailor was granted his freedom!
Free at Last
On the day of Sailor’s exoneration, the 17th floor of the Justice Center in Cleveland was packed with Sailor’s loved ones, supporters, and OIP fellows. Because the tiny courtroom could barely fit Sailor’s legal team and family, a large group stood in the adjacent hallway and watched the live stream footage of the hearing from Cleveland Channel 8’s website. The night before Sailor’s exoneration, Bergeron, Radin, and Wilz spent time with the Sailor family. They knew how important it was for the Sailor family to see Sailor’s sentence vacated. Although it was frustrating for them not to be in the courtroom, Radin and Wilz both knew the importance of the family presence in the courtroom. Both Radin and Wilz told me Sailor’s release was the most important thing that day! They were happy to see him come out! Sailor’s family arrived in a party bus all excited to take Sailor home.
“The judge’s order means that Ru-El is a free man,” Radin told me. Moreover, Sailor is walking out to a different world.
“Adjusting to life will be Ru-El’s biggest challenge. A lot has changed in 15 years. But, as evidenced by his support on March 28, he has a family that has been hoping and praying for this day on his side. In addition, he now joins the wonderful group of OIP exonerees who will take them in as their brother. He is so lucky!” Wilz told me. Sailor may face some financial difficulties or find it difficult to use his new iPhone, but he’s home.
He is free.
Click here to read more about Ru-El Sailor’s Exoneration.
Visit the Ohio Innocence Project’s Facebook page to see Sailor’s exoneration.
Click here to support Ru-El Sailor’s homecoming.
Nikita Srivastava is a 2L at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. Currently, she is a fellow for the Ohio Innocence Project and Vice President of UC Law’s Trial Team. Also, she is Secretary of UCLW and Vice President of Criminal Law Society.