CLEVELAND — After spending nearly 15 years in prison for a crime both maintained they did not commit, Michael Sutton and Kenny Phillips are filing a wrongful imprisonment lawsuit against the state of Ohio in the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.
The two men, alongside their attorneys from Friedman, Gilbert + Gerhardstein, announced the filing of the suit in the firm's Downtown Cleveland office on Wednesday.
In 2006, at 18 and 17 years old respectively, Sutton and Phillips' lives changed. Both were arrested and convicted of attempted murder in connection to a shooting on the east side of Cleveland and subsequently spent nearly 15 years in prison.
In March of 2021, the Eighth District Court of Appeals granted the men a new trial, finding a lack of physical evidence connecting them to the alleged attempted murder, and also finding they were denied a fair trail after certain evidence was not shared with defense attorneys.
The new trial began this past Sept. 19, and eight days later, Sutton and Phillips were found not guilty of all charges.
"I feel like now this is the time for us to get what we want to do in life that we got stripped of," Phillips said. "Like what we would have become." Phillips.
"Coming from prison, just to finally know [you're] free, I got a family I started, a baby on the way, my first one," Sutton added. "I'm about to be a father. With this case being gone, I can be a better brother, a better son."
While they have their freedom back, the men are now moving forward in the legal process, looking for a declaration of wrongful imprisonment from the state.
"With this lawsuit, Kenny and Michael are officially seeking, for the first time, a declaration of wrongful of imprisonment," said Sarah Gelsomino, partner at Friedman, Gilbert + Gerhardstein. "A recognition from the state of what we already know: That Kenny and Michael both did 15 years of their life in prison wrongfully."
Gelsomino said that the lawsuit allows the men to get the declaration from the state. With that declaration, they can move forward with a second lawsuit in the Court of Claims to seek compensation.
"It's an actual wrongful imprisonment statute which is in the code of the State of Ohio that allows for people who do prison time when they're innocent to be compensated for the time that they spend in prison," Gelsomino said.
While the recognition of the wrongdoing as well as the compensation would be meaningful to the men, they said it won't give back the years they lost in prison.
"We did 15 years since we were 17 years old," Sutton said. "It's like our whole life got stripped from us. I don't know, how can money replace time?"
While Gelsomino is "confident" Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost will work with them to get the declaration as soon as possible, she also acknowledged the justice system can be slow.
Both men are looking to move forward. Besides expecting his first child, Sutton wants to write, and has plans to speak to young adults and those in prison in the hopes of sharing his story and helping others. Phillips has aspirations to start a clothing company based around the idea of "faith over fear," and similarly wants to travel and share his story with others.
3News reached out to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office about the filing of this lawsuit, and received the following response: "The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office respectfully declines to comment."