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Free After Two Decades Behind Bars: Tyra Patterson Released

Tyra Patterson in an undated family photo.
Just For Tyra Patterson Facebook page

This Christmas, a woman who has served more than two decades in prison for a 1994 murder conviction walks free from a Cleveland detention facility.

Dayton native Tyra Patterson was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of another teenager.

The 42-year-old had always maintained that her confession in the high-profile shooting death of 15-year-old Michelle Lai was coerced. 

Her case attracted worldwide attention.

Witness Holly Lai Holbrook, Michelle Lai's sister, had recently spoken out in defense of Patterson, saying she was not involved in her sister's murder.

A state board granted Patterson parole in October.

Now, Patterson's attorney David Singleton, executive director of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, says Patterson plans to move to Cincinnati to help struggling young people avoid drugs and finish school.

Tyra Patterson's attorney David Singleton from the Ohio Justice and Policy Center
Credit Justice For Tyra Patterson Facebook page / WYSO
Tyra Patterson's attorney David Singleton from the Ohio Justice and Policy Center.

“She just wants to start her life and do what good she can for as much time as she has left to live. We still want to clear her name," he says, "but the good news is that she is finally going to be free after 23 years.”

Patterson, who dropped out of school at the age of 11 and learned to read and write in prison, also plans to work as a paralegal for the Ohio Justice and Policy Center.

Singleton says Patterson is mostly looking forward to beginning a new chapter after her long incarceration. But, he says, Patterson is clear on one important point: 

“She does not view herself as the victim in this [crime]. They were the five women, including teenager Michelle Lai, who got killed that night, and four other people who were robbed and survived," he says.  

Patterson has not been exonerated. Her 2013 petition for clemency is still pending. Singleton says she’s also considering her legal options.

Patterson's initial parole hearing was originally scheduled for 2018, but supporters successfully petitioned the state for an earlier hearing. She appeared before the board this summer.
Patterson was featured in a series WYSO aired in 2014 called Women’s Voices From Dayton Correctional Institution.

Jess Mador comes to WYSO from Knoxville NPR-station WUOT, where she created an interactive multimedia health storytelling project called TruckBeat, one of 15 projects around the country participating in AIR's Localore: #Finding America initiative. Before TruckBeat, Jess was an independent public radio journalist based in Minneapolis. She’s also worked as a staff reporter and producer at Minnesota Public Radio in the Twin Cities, and produced audio, video and web stories for a variety of other news outlets, including NPR News, APM, and PBS television stations. She has a Master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York. She loves making documentaries and telling stories at the intersection of journalism, digital and social media.