‘The Injustice System’: The Shadow of Innocence Looms Large in the Guardian’s Latest True Crime Investigation
inquiry into a 22-year-old murder and robbery case is raising doubts about the guilt of one of the alleged perpetrators of the crime amid suggestions that the conviction was built on a false and coerced confession.
Tyra Patterson has spent more than 21 years in prison for the murder of Michelle Lai, who was shot in a 1994 robbery. But today, at the age of 40, she continues to maintain her innocence, declaring that she was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and that, contrary to official accounts, she actually attempted to save Lai’s life rather than end it.
“I wish I could have done more, but I did what I could,” Patterson said to the
. “That night I was trying to help, I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone. I hurt myself.”
Official documents suggest that 15-year-old Michelle Lai, her sister Holly and three other girls, were accosted by a group of youths during the early hours of September 20, 1994, as they sat in their car in a Dayton, Ohio, neighborhood. The group—composed of LaShawna Keeney, Joe Letts, Kellie Johnson and Angie Thuman— reportedly attacked and robbed the Lai sisters in an altercation which rapidly escalated and resulted in Keeney shooting and killing Michelle Lai. Authorities would later state that Patterson was a part of the group and participated in the killing, a claim that resulted in Patterson being convicted and sentenced to 16 years to life in prison.
However, according to the first installment of the
’s three-part series investigating the murder, and based, in part, on Patterson’s own testimony, Patterson’s involvement appears to be limited to an attempt to stop Keeney. When that failed, she says, she turned around and walked away, picking up a gold chain she found lying on the pavement. According to Patterson, Lai was still alive at that point. Nevertheless, that simple act—of picking up the necklace—she adds, ended up being “the biggest mistake” of her life.”
reports, Patterson’s initial confession to the police—the one that she and her lawyer now say was coerced and false—that she snatched the necklace from one of the victims—“loomed as evidence that she had participated in the robbery and thus, under Ohio law, was party to a killing.” In other words, “even though she did not pull the trigger, and by her account did nothing wrong other than to pick up a necklace glistening on the ground, Tyra Patterson was charged with ‘aggravated murder’.”
Beyond Patterson’s own recounting of the events on that fateful night, the
’s report also points to “disparities in the official story,” including apparent contradictory testimony given by the victims as well as more recent statements by Patterson’s co-defendants, which point to Patterson not being linked to the crime.
Stay tuned for the second installment in the
’s multimedia true crime series, “
The Injustice System
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