ABC News: Two wrongly convicted men granted full-ride scholarships to college

Ohio Innocence Project at UC Law exoneree and staff are in the news

Michael Sutton, 35, and Kenny Phillips, 34, have been granted full scholarships to the University of Akron. It’s a chance to get the education that they were denied when both were wrongfully convicted in 2006 of crimes they had no part of. It cost them 15 years of freedom.

Their story aired on ABC News and News 5 Cleveland.

"It feels like a dream come true," Sutton said to News 5 Cleveland. "This was something I always dreamed about but being locked in prison for so long I didn't think it could happen."

Both men, high school seniors at the time of their incarceration, had gone out on Memorial Day weekend for a night of fun.

On their way back home they got stuck in traffic and witnessed someone in a gold-colored car in front of them lean out and fire at another vehicle. Two people suffered injuries. Police arrested Sutton and his friends and they were charged with multiple counts including attempted murder and assault.

Kenny Philips and Michael Sutton shown.

Kenny Philips and Michael Sutton shown. Photo/provided.

Sutton was planning to attend the University of Akron after graduation; he had a scholarship and wanted to study business. But he and Phillips instead ended up serving 15 years in prison. 

Sutton’s case was re-examined by the Ohio Innocence Project at the University of Cincinnati, while Phillips was represented by the Wrongful Conviction Project (WCP) at the Ohio Public Defender Commission. Their initial convictions were overturned and they were freed from jail in May 2021. They were later found not guilty of all charges by a jury in a retrial in September 2022 in Cuyahoga County.

Donald Caster, a professor in the UC College of Law who led the OIP team assisting Sutton, commented on the case in a statement to ABC News.

"This is what happens when police officers get it wrong and refuse to acknowledge their mistake," said Caster in the statement.

"Michael (Sutton) and Kenny (Phillips) were robbed of their early adulthood. Everything that people do in their late teens and twenties — to college, start a career, meet their partner, start a family — has all been delayed for Michael and Kenny. They are remarkable and they will overcome what was taken from them, but they shouldn't have to."

Listen to the interviews on ABC News and News 5 Cleveland.

Featured image at top: Scales of justice. Photo/Unsplash.

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