Charged 'Accomplice' In Murder Freed 22 Years Later (Photos)

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A woman who was jailed in 1994 after witnessing a murder was released on Christmas Day following an outpouring of support from celebrities and other advocates.

Tyra Patterson, 42, has spent the past 22 years in an Ohio prison on charges of being involved in the murder of 15-year-old Michelle Lai. She has long maintained her innocence.

The exact circumstances surrounding Michelle's death are still a bit of a mystery. According to WHIO, Michelle and a group of her friends, including her sister Holly, were parked in an alley in Dayton, Ohio, on the night of Sept. 20, 1994. They had spent the night burglarizing garages.  

LaShawna Keeney and a group of other youths, one of whom was Patterson, approached Michelle's group and got into an altercation with them. Keeney eventually shot Michelle.

Patterson allegedly reached into the car and grabbed a necklace off the neck of Michelle's co-passenger Candy Brogan, Dayton Daily News reports. Brogan was the one to call the police.

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At the time of the trial, Patterson admitted to robbing Brogan on videotape. Daily Mail reports that she was arrested under an Ohio "accomplice" law, which can carry the same sentence as those who committed the murder. Four others were also charged in the case.

But according to Dayton Daily News, Patterson said she confessed during an hours-long interrogation in which a Dayton police detective said it "would be better to admit to ripping the necklace from one of the victims, which was robbery, rather than going down for murder."

Holly Lai gave conflicting reports as to who stole the necklace. She initially said it was Patterson's co-defendant, Kellie Johnson, but later alleged it was Patterson herself.

As the years pressed on, evidence began to stack up in favor of Patterson's innocence. In a 2013 bid for clemency, polygraph tests, witness affidavits and the police phone call were presented in court for the first time.

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"I've met Tyra, I’ve talked to Tyra, and I truly believe she is innocent and was at the wrong place at the wrong time," former juror Nan Day told the Dayton Daily News in 2013. "And we as the jury didn’t have all the information we needed to make an informed decision."

Michelle's father opposed Patterson's clemency bid, saying that it would "send the wrong message" about criminal justice.

Patterson's case made national news in 2016, when actress Alfre Woodard, "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner, documentary maker Ken Burns and others made videos supporting her bid for freedom, Daily Mail reports.

She was granted parole in October after having it denied in 2011. On Dec. 25, she returned to her family in Kettering, Ohio, for a holiday reunion, WHIO reports.

"I am so in love with you, mama," said Patterson as she hugged her mother.

Sources: Daily Mail, WHIO, Dayton Daily News / Featured Image: Bob Jagendorf/Flickr / Embedded Images: Daily Mail

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