She Served 23 Years For A Murder She Says She Didn’t Commit: What She’s Doing Now

She Served 23 Years For A Murder She Says She Didn’t Commit: What She’s Doing Now

Tyra Patterson spent 23 years in prison for a murder she didn’t commit. She was finally vindicated in 2017, when she was released after activists and the victim’s sister fought for her release.

She could have left prison bitter and cynical, but instead Patterson is using her experience to help counsel others, especially teens.

It all started in 1994, when a then 19-year-old Patterson was hanging out with friends in Dayton Ohio. “It was the early hours of Sept. 20, 1994, when Patterson and her friend Becky Stidham were hanging out and smoking marijuana in Patterson’s apartment in Dayton, Ohio. Sometime after midnight, they went outside to look for a set of missing car keys and came across five young people whom they knew in passing. They tagged along with this crew, eventually getting in a car with three of them,” ABC News reported.

This is where the trouble started. This other group was on a mission to rob someone. And in the process, another young woman was shot and killed.

“Patterson was among five people arrested. She was charged with five counts of aggravated robbery and one count of aggravated murder. She was able to be charged with murder because when a person is killed during the commission of certain crimes–in this case, robbery–all the conspirators to the initial crime can be held responsible for that person’s death,” ABC News reported.

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Patterson confessed, she later said, under coercion. And at 20 years old, she was found guilty on one count of aggravated murder and four counts of aggravated robbery. The sentence: 43 years to life in prison. The woman who actually fired the shot that murdered Michelle Lai made a plea deal and was sentenced to a lighter sentence than Patterson–30 years to life.

During her time in prison, Patterson learned to read, earned her GED, and became a paralegal. She also began to mentor high school students from behind bars. Then, after 17 years in prison, she met David Singleton of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center. Singleton took up Patterson’s cause and raised awareness about her situation with the goal of freeing Patterson.

Celebrities started to take note. Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns posted a Facebook video in 2016 while holding a sign that said “I am Tyra Patterson,” Dayton Daily News reported.

Even the victim’s sister now came to her defense. Holly Lai Holbrook wrote a letter to Ohio Gov. John Kasich in 2016 to express her concern. “I no longer believe that Tyra participated in the robbery that led to Michelle’s murder. I believe it is wrong for Tyra to stay locked up.”

Patterson was finally granted parole and on Christmas Day 2017, she walked out of prison free.

“I felt vindicated. I kissed the ground and gave thanks,” she said.

Now 42 years old, she’s starting over, trying to regain all of those lost years with her family.

Today, Patterson is working as a paralegal and community outreach director for the same organization that worked for her freedom.