CLEVELAND, Ohio – A Cleveland man who was wrongly convicted of aggravated murder and imprisoned for 15 years is finally back at home.
Ru-El Sailor was released from the Justice Center Wednesday night, and went straight over to Willard Park and the Free Stamp sculpture.
“So many times I’ve seen it and I thought when I get out, I want to go to that Free Stamp,” said Sailor. “I want to represent for all the brothers who ain’t free; I want to be an example to all you all that’s in there.”
The Free Stamp, created by Claes Oldenburg, remembers American slaves emancipated during and after the Civil War.
Sailor, 38, is determined to help others who are wrongly imprisoned because he says so many people helped him. He also thanked people at the Ohio Innocence Project, who helped him regain his freedom.
“I just want to be an example; I want to be there for all of them,” said Sailor.
On Nov. 17, 2002, Omar Clark was shot and killed on Englewood Avenue in Cleveland. The following year, a jury found Sailor guilty of aggravated murder and in 2003 he was sentenced to 28 years to life.
Two other defendants, Cordell Hubbard and Nichole Hubbard, were also convicted, but Sailor never wavered on his innocence.
“I prayed every night and every morning. I knew it was gonna happen one day; I never gave up faith — never, not once,” said Sailor.
In court Wednesday morning, the victim's brother became choked up and spoke on Sailor’s behalf.
“Somebody asked me what I want to see before I go and I said I want to see an innocent man walk out of jail,” said a tearful Umar Clark.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley was also in court. He said the prosecutor's office conducted a 15-month investigation in the case after witnesses came forward to say Sailor was not the shooter.
Andrew Radin, a law clerk with the Ohio Innocence Project, said, “One of the men convicted admitted at sentencing that he was the shooter and that there was somebody else there with him.”
After weighing all of the evidence, Judge Nancy McDonnell granted a joint motion by Ru-El Sailor’s attorneys and the Cuyahoga County Conviction Integrity Unit to vacate Sailor’s conviction from 2003.
“We came to the conclusion that this conviction wasn’t just,” said O’Malley.
Sailor did plead guilty to one count of perjury for originally lying to protect a friend. That’s how he was first brought into the case. In court, he sincerely apologized for lying and was credited with time served.
However, it would take about four more hours for Sailor to be processed, and finally released.
His fiance, children and more than a dozen other family members and friends were anxiously waiting, especially his mother.
“I really want to hold him,” said Berenatte Brown, Sailor’s mother, "but it’s just exciting because he’s finally coming home.”
Everyone loaded into a large limousine bus and then headed to the Free Stamp where they took pictures.
His family bought him his first smartphone and they were all going to out dinner to celebrate.
Sailor says he’s planning a trip to Disney with his children. He also hopes to watch a Browns game and see LeBron James play in person.
“Just enjoying life,” he said. “I can do anything right now, man; I’ve been locked up for 15 years."