2 men Ohio Innocence Project claims were wrongfully convicted in Cleveland drive-by shooting granted new trial

Updated: Mar. 18, 2021 at 9:05 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Two men convicted of a crime when they were teenagers could be getting out of prison as the Eighth District Court ruled on Thursday that the state’s failure to disclose evidence violated their rights to a fair trial.

Each day, the Ohio Innocence Project receives emails and letters from inmates all throughout the state claiming they have been wrongfully put in prison.

In 2006, Kenny Phillips and Michael Sutton were arrested and charged with attempted murder.

At the time, both had just reached their 18th birthday.

However, the shooting, which occurred that night at a Marathon gas station on East 55th Street and Woodland Avenue in Cleveland, altered their lives forever.

Sutton told police he witnessed someone firing a gun in front of his car; however, minutes later, he and Phillips became prime suspects.

At sentencing, Phillips received 92 1/2 years while Sutton got 46 1/2, for allegedly shooting at Cleveland police officers.

In Nov. 2020, Phillips’ Elaine Phillips Witherspoon described how she has been living a nightmare in real time for the past 14 years.

“I prayed to have a son. And for them to take that away from me, him away from me, I was messed up.” Witherspoon went on to say. “When we went to court and they said 92 years, I almost passed out. They put me out the courtroom and I told them they were all liars."

The Phillips family is in strong denial that Kenny had anything to do with the shooting.

Kenisha Hughley doesn’t believe it for one second.

“When somebody tells you that your brother shot somebody, I knew, I am telling you I knew, that’s not even my brother,” Hughley said also said in Nov. 2020.

There are two organizations working on the cases for Sutton and Phillips.

Joanna Sanchez, the lead attorney on Phillips' case, is with the Wrongful Conviction Project.

Donald Caster, an attorney with the Ohio Innocence Project, is steadfast that both Sutton and Phillips are innocent, especially with new evidence and discovery that could free them both.

“Two Cleveland police officers, one current and one former have come forward and said the original testimony from other officers doesn’t make sense from what they saw,” Caster said in Nov. 2020.

Back in Nov. 2020, so many questions had come up in this case that the Ohio Innocence Project was convinced that both Sutton and Phillips could be free.

Their fate was in the hands of the Ohio 8th District Court of Appeals, a ruling to reexamine their case could end up with both men free.

This is the result of Thursday’s ruling:

“The trial court’s decision that appellants are not entitled to a new trial is in error. The state’s case was based solely on the alleged eyewitness testimony of two police officers that appellants shot the victims and shot at one of the officers. The broad police search discovered no evidence of weapons, shells, bullet holes, or other evidence that appellants possessed or fired guns. The sole physical evidence in the case was a minimal amount of possible GSR on the hand of one appellant that experts testified:

  1. may have been transferred from the police vehicle during transport,
  2. did not prove the individual shot a gun, or
  3. may possibly have been brake lining material or fireworks residue that have the same chemical composition.

One of the appellants had brake repairs made and picked up his car the day of the Memorial Day weekend incident. The newly discovered eyewitness evidence from two officers also present at the scene conflicts with the testimony of the original officers and supports the testimony of appellants that they did not commit the crimes alleged. The evidence is material, exculpatory, useful for impeachment purposes, and constitutes a Brady violation. Appellants were prejudiced by the suppressed evidence and their due process rights were violated. Appellants are entitled to a new trial.”

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