Imagine spending 22 years in prison for a crime you didn’t commit. That was the unfortunate reality of Tyra Patterson who recently walked free after spending more than two decades fighting for her life.
In 1994, Patterson was handed a sentence of 43 years to life for the murder of 15-year-old Michelle Lai. Amidst coerced false confessions and overall mishandling of the case, people—including the victim’s sister—began to realize that Patterson was innocent.
Here are 11 things you need to know about Tyra Patterson.
The media helped highlight her story.
Patterson was the subject of a 6-month investigational piece published in the Guardian, which helped bring attention to her case.
She was falsely accused.
The Dayton, Ohio native was 20 at the time of her sentencing, but 19 at the time of the incident. She was accused of being an accomplice to the robbing and murdering of 15-year-old Michelle Lai—who was shot at point-blank range in the head—and received the same punishment as the actual killers.
Patterson called 911.
Patterson’s account is that she tagged along with some acquaintances that she ran into that night. She ran away from the scene when they got too out of control and attacked a nearby group of teenagers, and Patterson called 911 soon after the murder happened, but the tape was never played for the jury.
A necklace implicated her.
What connected Patterson to the murder was that she picked up a necklace belonging to one of the victims, that had fallen to the ground, before fleeing the scene. Patterson was forced to give a false confession to robbery and regretted picking up the necklace.
Everyone cleared her name.
Patterson’s co-defendants stated under oath that she was not involved. Patterson maintained her innocence throughout her entire life behind bars.
The victim’s sister cleared her name.
Holly Lai Holbrook, Lai’s sister, who was present that night, helped to advocate for Patterson’s release and wrote letters of appeal on Patterson’s behalf.
Patterson entered prison unable to write.
Patterson entered prison barely able to read or write. She dropped out of school at 12 because she was tired of being teased for coming from a poor family.
She has big dreams.
Today, Patterson —now 41 years old— is licensed to fix boilers, has acquired basic skills in computing and office administration and would like to become a paralegal and/or a motivational speaker. She has also mentored younger inmates.
Her freedom comes with stipulations.
Patterson was released just before last Christmas. She is free on parole, but charges have not been exonerated. The Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office has voted twice against Patterson’s clemency.