Convicted murderer Tyra Patterson, who has garnered international support in her claims of innocence, soon will be released from prison after the 12-member Ohio Parole Board voted to grant parole for the 42-year-old Dayton woman.
“She’s coming home,” said David Singleton, executive director of the Ohio Justice & Policy Center and one of six attorneys representing Patterson. “And we are just over joyed that the board agreed to parole her.”
Maria Patterson, Tyra’s sister-in-law, said “It seems surreal. I’m ecstatic to begin mending our family together. This means holidays together. We have so much to look forward to. I know my husband and his family has been waiting for this for so many years.”
Leon Daidone, chief of the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s criminal division, said he was disappointed but not surprised.
“Everything’s focused around the defendant Patterson,” Daidone said. “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.”
Patterson, who is incarcerated at the Northeast Pre-Release Center, was not present for the 75-minute hearing. She is expected to walk out of prison sometime on or after Dec. 24. Patterson entered state prison in December 1995 as a 20-year-old after being convicted of the murder and robbery of 15-year-old Michelle Lai on Sept. 20, 1994.
That night, Lai and her sister, Holly, and three other young women were out “roguing” or stealing when they encountered a group of robbers, according to court records. One of the girls, Candy Brogan, had a necklace ripped from her neck by one of the robbers.
Patterson did not fire the shot that killed Lai but under Ohio law accomplices to murder can get the same punishment as killers. Patterson has maintained that Dayton police coerced her into confessing on camera to a robbery she didn’t commit, which opened her up to the aggravated murder conviction.
Montgomery County Director of Victim Services Sandy Hunt said that members of the Lai family oppose Patterson’s release, saying she still hasn’t accepted responsibility for her actions.
Holly Lai gave conflicting testimony in the court proceedings and jurors never heard how it was Patterson who called 911 for help after the shooting. Patterson also passed a lie detector test, though that is not admissible as evidence in court.
Holly Lai, now Holly Holbrook, wrote a letter to Ohio Gov. John Kasich in April 2016 saying Patterson wasn’t involved in the robbery and shooting of her sister on Sept. 20, 1994.
“I no longer believe that Tyra participated in the robbery that led to Michelle’s murder,” Holbrook’s letter reads. “I believe it is wrong for Tyra to stay locked up.”
Celebrity support for Patterson has included filmmaker Ken Burns, actress Alfre Woodard and “Mad Men” TV show creator Matthew Weiner. Politicians calling for her release include ex-Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters; five state senators including Bill Beagle, Shannon Jones and Peggy Lehner; and former U.S. congresswoman Jean Schmidt.
Ohio Parole Board member Trayce Thalheimer said Tyra Patterson “has blossomed” in prison, but worries that because of all the attention, Patterson will eventually say, “I’m lost. This is a lot. I would like to step back.”
Patterson was denied parole in March 2011 when the Ohio Parole Board determined that “release at this time would demean the overall seriousness of the offense.” But in July 2017, the board indicated a willingness to release her, noting that Patterson is motivated to successfully re-enter society and has considerable community support.
»RELATED: Changes may aid prisoners seeking parole
Patterson, who dropped out of school in the sixth grade, has a job awaiting her at the Cincinnati-based Ohio Justice Policy Center as a paralegal who will speak with children statewide about staying in school and off drugs, Singleton said. The position would be funded in part by Deters, one of Patterson’s mentors, Singleton said.
Singleton said Patterson earned her GED in prison as well as certification as a paralegal and steam engineer. She has multiple offers for housing.
UNMATCHED COVERAGE: This news organization has provided extensive coverage of Michelle Lai, including her life before she was murdered at age 15, as well as Tyra Patterson’s conviction in the teen’s death and her claims of innocence. This case has gained international attention.