How Many Tyra Pattersons Are There?

It’s one of those criminal cases that makes you shake your head in disbelief.

Within a few weeks 42-year-old Tyra Patterson will be released from an Ohio prison after serving 23 years for a murder she is now widely believed not to have committed. She will have spent more than half her life behind bars.  It’s a case that makes you wonder how many others have been caught up in the justice system this way.

Tyra, who I first wrote about back in 2013, has always maintained her innocence in the senseless shooting death of 15-year-old Michelle Lai.

Michelle Lai – Shot dead at Just 15 – But Not By Tyra Patterson

In short, Tyra and her friend Becca Stidham were in the wrong place at the wrong time when a group of girls, unknown to them, began to harass and rob five teenagers sitting in a Chevette.  After punches were thrown through the car windows a necklace from one of the victims ended up on the sidewalk. Tyra admits she instinctively bent down and picked it up. Then, she says, as she and Becca ran from the scene they heard a shot. They had no way of knowing that a girl named LaShawna Keeny had just committed murder.

The frightened teens said they ran to Tyra’s nearby apartment and once inside Tyra immediately called 911 for help. “I heard a gunshot,” Tyra tells the operator. “Please hurry up and come.”

The next day Tyra and Becca voluntarily went to the police station to tell them what they knew. Tyra left out the part about picking up the necklace and that would come back to haunt her. She would be painted as part of the marauding gang who had viciously robbed and murdered a young girl.

Tyra Volunteered to Speak to Detectives in 1994 – She Says They Had Already Decided She Was Guilty

After she shared her story with police Tyra says the detective’s words stunned her. “You’re a liar. I have witnesses. You killed a young girl. You are going down for murder.” And that is exactly what happened. Tyra was sentenced to 43 years to life in prison for being an accessory to aggravated robbery and murder. The actual shooter would be sentenced to less – 30 years to life.

Tyra, a black kid who had a sixth grade education and had somehow survived a miserable poverty-plagued childhood says she succumbed to hours and hours of interrogation and confessed because she just “wanted to go home.”

For some inexplicable reason Tyra’s lawyer never called Becca to the stand to corroborate their version of the story. The defense never raised the issue of how often false confessions are offered and, perhaps most damning, they failed to play the tape of Tyra’s frantic 911 call for help.

In addition, jurors didn’t learn about two important sworn statements. One from the shooter, LaShawna Keeney, who said, “Tyra actually tried to stop the robbery. She walked up to me and told me to leave the victims alone.”  A second statement from an eye-witness who had been walking her dog nearby read in part, “I remember Tyra trying to stop the robbery by telling LaShawna to leave the victims alone.”

Five years ago, attorney David Singleton, executive director of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, took up Tyra’s case. He dug deeper into the facts and began to put together a strong case for the parole board, he filed for clemency with Ohio Governor John Kasich and amassed a group of supporters ranging from Hollywood stars to the former Ohio Attorney General. Others also stepped up to help Tyra including the sister of the dead girl who was in the car during the murder. Holly Lai Holbrook supports Tyra’s version of events and believes she was not involved in her sister’s murder.

And get this, six of the 12 jurors that heard Tyra’s case and voted guilty now say if they knew back then what they know now about the murder – especially, that Tyra had been the one who called 911 for help — they never would have voted to convict. They joined the campaign to get the governor to free Tyra Patterson. The pleas was ignored.

Last week the Ohio parole board announced that Tyra is to be granted parole effective on or before this Christmas eve. The board rejected the prosecutor’s call for Tyra to finish serving her sentence. 

While in prison Tyra has educated herself, participated in more than 200 self-help groups and learned to love the books she never got to read in school.  She is now qualified to be a paralegal and has a job and housing waiting for her. Tyra says she looks forward to working with young people to encourage them to stay in school and live drug-free lives.

When Tyra once again breathes free air she will still be considered a convicted murderer. She and attorney Singleton vow to continue the fight to clear her name. I wish them luck.

And I continue to wonder how many others like Tyra Patterson are still unjustly held in prison.


UPDATE:  Tyra Patterson was released from prison on Christmas Day, 2017.


  1. Diane Dimond on November 7, 2017 at 9:07 am

    ABQ Journal reader Gunhild Vetter writes:

    Dear Diane
    Thanks for your story about Tyra Patterson. People need to be made aware that there are people convicted for things they did not do and are rotting in a jail cell somewhere.

    Not all officers, detectives, investigators are bad, it is just the few who are too lazy to really do a good investigation and will try to frame someone just so they can brag about the convictions and people they have put in jail.

    I would say I fell in the majority of investigators who would rather let someone get away with a crime if I could not positively prove they were guilty than to send an innocent person to jail.
    My thought was that if they are living a criminal life style they will get caught again and they still will have to answer at the court of not appeal for their sins they did not pay for here.

    Gunhild Vetter

  2. Diane Dimond on November 7, 2017 at 9:09 am

    ABQ Journal reader Carolyn Bennett writes:

    I read, yet again, of a wrongfully convicted prisoner; the description and history differ somewhat. My friend, Terry Wayne Cope, was accused of attempted murder in a state he was not in at the time with plenty of witnesses WHICH WERE NEVER CALLED and a since discredited FBI “Expert” testifying that yes, indeed, those were.45 caliber jackets and yes, indeed , those bullets were used all over the U.S. Terry was heaven-sent for the ambitious prosecutor, (he had a dismal public defender) son of Kentucky senator at that time (I cannot remember his name!); the prosecutor was jiggling with impatient desire to be appointed Federal Judge (for life!!) and he was. Still is….

    The crowning blow/touch (this prosecutor apparently read his jury like a 2nd grade primer) was when he announced that he had a REAL LIFE undercover sheriff’s deputy WIRED! He testified that he met with Mr.Cope in a KMart parking lot where Terry allegedly contracted with “Bill” to kill his wife… AND the slickety prosecutor PLAYED IT!!I asked Terry what happened. He said “It sounded like a 747 revving up!” Oh, but they have a transcript…and THEN THEY LOST THE TAPE.. Forgive the CAPS but it begged for it as in the telling of an awful 3rd rate movie. Terry spent several years gathering evidence,he went to Leavenworth in 1999, still there, still waiting….He and I talk on the phone about once a week except when the prison is on lock down. I told him some years back that someone announced that the average of wrongly convicted prisoners is 18 years… He reminded me of that when he said he was coming up on the “average” anniversary.

    The point of this meandering is do you have any suggestions of a lawyer but more importantly will do it pro bono? Terry was a highly paid airline captain, had a big 204 account; the judge : Judge Jennifer , he got on the wrong side of her and she awarded ALL of his savings to his ex-wife. The federal law dictates that Only one half can go to a spouse…..

    Best wishes,
    Carolyn Bennett

  3. Diane Dimond on November 7, 2017 at 9:45 am

    Facebook Friend Dan Lawrence writes:

    Even 1 is to many- how many cases have we seen over the years where those on death row were proved innocent through DNA. Put away these prosecutors and officers of the law that hide evidence and put innocent people in jail just for a conviction. Even if it’s 20 years later- go after them now and lack them up. The whole damn system is corrupt from the top down.

  4. Diane Dimond on November 7, 2017 at 9:46 am

    Facebook Friend Alexandrea Merrell writes:

    Years ago when i started law school, the FBI released a study suggesting that roughly 7% of the prison population at the time was what they called “factually innocent” meaning that they were completely innocent of the crime (not simply jailed due to poor counsel.

    Predatory elected DAs and Judges, many of whom maintain their jobs on a statistically impossible 100% conviction platform were sited as the 1# reason for the number, followed by narrowly focused police work, ineffective counsel, shoddy forensics, and the accused’s lack of education (inability to help in their own defense) were cited as well.

    7% at the time was 144,000 innocent, yet convicted people.

  5. Diane Dimond on November 7, 2017 at 9:46 am

    Facebook Friend Jackie Morin writes:

    Definitely too many unprincipled prosecutors. Lives are destroyed to further their careers. And yet……..people like OJ & Casey are walking around free, which seems dichotomous.

    • Diane Dimond on November 7, 2017 at 9:48 am

      Facebook Friend Lori McGee Jones writes:

      Darlie Routier is innocent. the WM3 were years of their life wasted for no reason.

    • Diane Dimond on November 7, 2017 at 9:48 am

      Facebook Friend Lori McGee Jones writes:

      Darlie Routier is innocent. the WM3 were years of their life wasted for no reason.

      • Diane Dimond on November 7, 2017 at 9:49 am

        Jackie Morin replies:

        I think Darlie & Susan Wright are definitely both wrongfully convicted!

        • Diane Dimond on November 7, 2017 at 9:53 am

          Madeline Michele Hovey replies

          I think they are both so guilty Darlie and Susan..

  6. Diane Dimond on November 7, 2017 at 10:19 am

    Facebook Friend Jeff Davis writes:

    One of two reasons I am opposed to the death penalty. Justice is not always right nor is it impartial.

  7. Diane Dimond on November 7, 2017 at 10:19 am

    Facebook Friend Madeline Michele Hovey writes:

    Whats with this wrongfully accused? Where are the victim in all of this?

  8. Diane Dimond on November 7, 2017 at 10:20 am

    Facebook Friend Daniel Goldfarb writes:

    The CJS is not set up to seek the truth – not a hunt for justice but an adversarial system in which opportunity to advance is based on won-lost stats…& so the use of jailhouse snitches, spite, tunnel vision, knowing use of false testimony, false evidence planted at the crime scene…and much more – ANYTHING TO GET A “GOOD CONVICTION” rules the day!!
    As a young trial atty for the public defender’s office in NYC, I saw it all – & I quickly realized that in the courtroom I was totally alone in the uphill battle for a just outcome. The cops, Asst. DA’s, even the judges (most vets of the DA’s office) were all out for the good arrest-conviction which furthered their career goals-justice left by the wayside…even my clients lied to me…So, As the proceedings began I was the absolutely lone warrior…no one else interested in justice, no one!
    That life, which I lived for 7 years, was so outrageous trying to explain it is often met with skeptic looks especially in this age of the Trumpanzees…I recommend seeing an old Pacino movie – “Injustice For All” or “Justice for All”…. As a profile of a young defense atty – do not scoff, it is close to the truth!!

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