After spending almost 23 years of a life sentence in an Ohio state prison, Tyra Patterson is now free! The Ohio State Parole Board granted her parole. Patterson was 19 years-old when she entered the prison system, and she is now 42 years old. To this date, she maintains her innocence in the death of Michelle Lai.
In 1994, a jury convicted Patterson as an accomplice to the murder of 15-year-old Michelle Lai. According to CBS News, Lai and a group of friends were out burglarizing local garages in Dayton, Ohio. The group was sitting in a car when Patterson and another group of girls approached them. The two sides got into a shouting match. In the end, Lai died via a bullet to the head.
Tyra Patterson’s Case
Moreover, Patterson’s attorney believed detectives coerced her to give a false confession, according to CBS News. “She said at the time that she was at the murder scene and committed a robbery.”
Additionally, Singleton stated, “She was 19, inexperienced with the system, naive and the detective pushed her too hard and said things that made her admit to something that she didn’t do.”
However, Mr. Singleton believed his client was innocent. During her trial, the jury heard her confession. Although, she was not the person responsible for pulling the trigger the state convicted her as an accomplice. Under the Ohio law, a person who participates in a robbery that results in murder can be charged with murder, according to the Guardian. In the videotaped confession, Patterson admitted to being the one who stole the necklace from one of the girls. Upon further investigation, Patterson said she only confessed to taking the necklace after the Dayton police interrogated her for several hours.
In this case, Attorney Singleton discovered a missing 911 call, a crucial piece of evidence that showed Patterson called the police. With this newly discovered evidence of the 911 call, Michelle’s Lai sister joined the fight. Also, six of the jurors who convicted Ms. Patterson said if they had heard the 911 call they would not have convicted her.
The Turning Point
Holly Lai-Holbrook was at the murder scene the day her sister was killed, according to Newser. Admittedly, Lai-Holbrook came forward to say she told the police Patterson had nothing to do with the murder. Lai-Holbrook began advocating for the release of Patterson. She sent Governor Kasich a letter asking for Patterson’s release. That letter led to the social media campaign; “I am Tyra Patterson.” Many politicians and celebrities began advocating for Tyra, including Alfre Woodard. The campaign may have been instrumental in her freedom.
Ohio Justice & Policy Center
Attorney David Singleton is the Executive Director of the Ohio Justice Center. Mr. Singleton received his J.D., cum laude, from Harvard Law School in 1991. Upon graduation, Mr. Singleton received a Skadden Fellowship to work at the Legal Action Center for the Homeless in New York City. Subsequently, he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio in 2001. He is an Assistant Professor of Law at Northern Kentucky University’s Salmon P. Chase College of Law.