CLEVELAND (WJW) – Michael Sutton and Kenny Phillips spent 16 years behind bars before being exonerated.
One year after their release, they filed a lawsuit against the state of Ohio seeking a declaration that they were wrongfully imprisoned.
When they were still teenagers, Sutton and Phillips were convicted of a 2006 shooting in which two victims were seriously injured.
Sutton was given a sentence of more than 40 years behind bars; Phillips was sentenced to more than 90 years.
The case was built almost entirely on the testimony of two Cleveland police officers.
In 2021, they were freed after an appeals court found prosecutors suppressed evidence that would have cast doubt on the trial testimony of two Cleveland police officers who claimed to have witnessed the shooting and ordered a new trial.
In September 2022, both were officially exonerated.
“This ruined our life, you know. I had a full ride to college,” said Sutton on Wednesday.
“The state really showed their colors on this one rather than doing a true investigation into this to determine who the real perpetrator was instead they doubled down on these guys,” said their attorney, Sarah Gelsomino.
The lawsuit is the first step in a process through which the two men can seek compensation from the state for their time in prison
“In this case, a jury has already determined that Kenny and Michael are innocent of the charges that were brought against them by the state,” said Gelsomino.
Both men say the process of putting their lives back together after having spent much of it behind bars has been difficult, and they say there are experiences for which they can never be fully compensated
“Time is precious,” said Phillips, who says he wants to start a company of his own and speak in prisons and churches about what he has learned from his experience.
“Same thing that he said, like, I lost all my grandparents while I was in prison. That’s the kind of stuff money can’t buy,” said Sutton who says he is about to become a father and has learned the importance of having the support of a close family.
“It ain’t like just for us. I feel like this is for everybody who is still in there fighting,” said Phillips.
The legal process to first seek a wrongful imprisonment declaration and then sue in common pleas court for compensation under Ohio law could take as much as a year, according to Gelsomino.
The men hint that they are considering eventually bringing another case against those who they believe conspired to put them in prison.
“You got cops lying on the stand, and it’s right here proven in the face of the judge and the jury, but the cops get to walk away scot-free like it never happened and they really gave us 136 years based on a cop’s lie,” said Sutton.