Cleveland man wrongfully imprisoned at 17, hopes his story can help others

Published: Mar. 4, 2023 at 10:36 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A Cleveland man who was wrongfully convicted and spent 15 years in prison fighting to clear his name, is now focused on helping others fighting for justice.

Michael Sutton of Cleveland was just 17-years-old, and had a full ride scholarship to the University of Akron when he was arrested on charges of attempted murder and shooting at police officers, “I ain’t never been in jail before, never had a case before. This was like a storm I was walking into that I wasn’t prepared for. I had a full ride to Akron University. So, it was more like my first days in prison were supposed to be like my first days in college.”

Sutton’s story reads like a movie script, a teenager wrongly accused who spends more than a decade behind bars before his name is cleared with the help of the Ohio Innocence Project and others. Now, he’s a motivational speaker, reliving his personal nightmare with the justice system, hoping he can help others, whether it’s mother’s, teens or those wrongfully accused.

“I never had a voice. It’s like police versus my word. So, the police are way more credible than four Black kids at midnight in the middle of the projects,” Sutton said.

Ohio has a rate of wrongful convictions higher than any other state. The National Registry of Exonerations has a list of at least 83 people who were wrongfully convicted in Ohio since 1989, some men even sat on death row.

“Two police officers came forward in 2015, and got on the witness stand to testify that the other cops lied to us,” according to Sutton.

But, the wheels of justice moved so slowly it would be at least five more years before Sutton and Phillips could go home to be with their families again, as free men, Sutton says, “I feel like my calling is to be a motivational speaker. I’ve been through a lot and I want to help the next person the best way that I can.”