Tyra Patterson, who was convicted in the 1994 murder of a 15-year-old girl but maintained her innocence through the years, will be freed from prison on or after Dec. 24, the Ohio Parole Board decided Tuesday, WHIO-TV reported.
Patterson, 42, was found guilty in the death of Michelle Lai in Dayton but over the years had a growing list of supporters advocating for her freedom, the television station said.
Patterson was accused of aiding and abetting the crime, where LaShawna Keeney shot and killed Lai at close range and is currently serving a life term, The Guardian wrote. Patterson has always insisted that she was just in the wrong place and wrong time and did not participate in the shooting, The Guardian reported.
Politicians like former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, five state senators and former U.S. congresswoman Jean Schmidt have come to the support of Patterson along with documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, actress Alfre Woodard and "Mad Men" television show creator Matthew Weiner, the Dayton Daily News reported.
Last year, Lai's sister, Holly Holbrook, wrote a letter to Ohio Gov. John Kasich supporting Patterson's release, the Daily News reported.
"I no longer believe that Tyra participated in the robbery that led to Michelle’s murder," Holbrook's letter read, according to the newspaper. "I believe it is wrong for Tyra to stay locked up."
David Singleton, the executive director of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center who has worked on Patterson's behalf for the past five years, told The Guardian that he was "relieved and ecstatic" about his client's impending freedom.
"It shows us that the fight for justice is really hard," Singleton told The Guardian. "I'm convinced that were it not for our five-year effort Tyra would still be locked up some years from now, and that's not right. There are many other people out there who are innocent but don't have the resources to press their case.
"Right now she will walk out as an aggravated murderer and robber – we still vow to clear her name," Singleton continued.
Leon Daidone, chief of the Montgomery County prosecutor's criminal division, told the Dayton Daily News that he was disappointed but not surprised by Patterson's release.
"Everything's focused around the defendant Patterson," Daidone told the Daily News. "She's not the victim in this case. The victim in this case was 15-year-old Michelle Lai, her life ended, and the other victims in the car. They're the victims in this case and they're the ones we have to think about whether or not justice was done involving them."
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