“Good day reality.”
That’s the phrase Robert McClendon will all the time be related to. It was his response 10 years in the past when DNA outcomes have been introduced that conclusively cleared him of the rape cost that had value him his freedom for the earlier 18 years.
However, on this 10th anniversary yr of that second, Robert says they aren’t essentially the phrases that stick out most in his thoughts from that day.
It was an alternate with Columbus Dispatch reporter Mike Wagner, whose reporting performs prominently in Robert’s story, that continues to be most vivid to Robert.
Heading into the proceedings to announce the outcomes of the DNA comparability, nobody was telling Robert what the outcomes confirmed.
“Nobody would say something about it. My household was bewildered, they have been shocked,” Robert remembers. “I assumed, ‘Oh my gosh, the outcomes should have come again inconclusive.’ All type of issues have been going by way of my thoughts, and I’ll all the time bear in mind this dialog with Mike Wagner.
“Mike knew I favored basketball, and he was a highschool basketball participant himself, so he had stated, ‘When you ever get out, we’ll should play a recreation of 1-on-1.’ So nobody is telling me something, after which Mike walks by and he says the phrases I’ll always remember, ‘You prepared for that basketball recreation?’ “
That’s how Robert McClendon discovered his 18-year nightmare was drawing to a detailed.
McClendon, Wagner and others concerned in his case – together with fellow Ohio Innocence Challenge (OIP) exonerees Dean Gillispie, Laurese Glover and Nancy Smith – revisited his journey to justice this week throughout a panel dialogue, “Good day Fact, Ten Years of Freedom” in Robert’s hometown of Columbus.
Additionally taking part have been Columbus metropolis council member Jaiza Web page, who served as moderator, Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien, Decide Charles Schneider of the Franklin County Widespread Pleas Courtroom, former Columbus Dispatch reporter Geoff Dutton and OIP Deputy Director Jennifer Paschen Bergeron.
Robert’s case was a real landmark second for the innocence motion in Ohio.
Dutton and Wagner had set the stage in 2008 with their award-winning sequence for the Dispatch, “Take a look at of Convictions,” which confirmed the acute issue Ohio inmates encountered when requesting DNA testing of proof from their circumstances. Working in partnership with the OIP, 313 circumstances of inmates who had appealed for DNA testing that was not granted have been examined. Finally, 30 that appeared most promising have been despatched to the Fairfield, Ohio, headquarters of DNA Diagnostics, which had agreed to do professional bono critiques.
Robert’s take a look at was the primary to return again. He turned the primary of 5 out of that preliminary group of 30 who would discover exoneration by way of DNA evaluation.
Robert’s case was additionally the primary dealt with by Bergeron, who had been with OIP for lower than a yr. A 2002 graduate from UC Regulation, she says she didn’t instantly contemplate Innocence Challenge work as an choice as a result of it wasn’t one thing college students have been uncovered to in legislation college on the time.
Now she’s been at it for a decade, and is OIP’s deputy director. “It was my first exoneration, and continues to be the quickest exoneration,” she says. “We filed in February, and he was out in August. I believe his was the smoothest exoneration I’ve had to this point, as a result of the prosecutor’s workplace was prepared to work with us and the lab moved it by way of rapidly. It went so easily that I naively thought they might all be like that.”
Outcomes of the DNA take a look at have been revealed on July 22, 2008. Lower than three weeks later, after discussions between the OIP and Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien on how the case ought to proceed, Robert rejoined his household for a joyous celebration in Columbus. His final day earlier than a late afternoon launch included a last listening to earlier than Decide Charles Schneider, who presided over the case.
O’Brien offered McClendon with a proclamation at this week’s program, commemorating the tenth anniversary of his launch. He has been among the many most open county prosecutors within the state to reviewing robust claims of innocence, saying on the time of Robert’s launch, “I don’t need anyone in jail who doesn’t belong there.”
Robert says his expertise has been that not all persons are so prepared to be fair-minded. He cites what he calls his 70-20-10 principle.
“Seventy p.c of the general public received’t consider you as a result of they noticed you have been convicted. Twenty p.c of the folks really feel like, ‘I hope he didn’t do it.’ Then you’ve got the ten p.c who’re your riders. They know your coronary heart and your soul and are with you as a result of they really consider you.”
Assist has change into a significant theme all through Robert’s time since his launch.
Robert was the fifth wrongfully convicted particular person to be free of jail with assist from the OIP within the group’s first 5 years of existence. Within the 10 years since, 22 extra Ohioans have joined that listing. Robert is an enthusiastic member of a gaggle of OIP exonerees which actively helps every new exoneree upon launch, as they cope with points distinctive to their circumstance in adapting again into free society and attempting to return to grips with the psychological aftermath of being wrongfully imprisoned.
He’s additionally change into a powerful advocate for creating public consciousness on the problem of wrongful convictions. Typically paired collectively along with his good buddy and fellow OIP exoneree Dean Gillispie, who served 20 years for a criminal offense he didn’t commit, they’ve shared their tales with dozens of audiences throughout the state in recent times.
“The message adjustments through the years and the message additionally adjustments with the age we’re talking to and the kind of group,” says Robert, who amongst different heartaches suffered whereas incarcerated missed the funerals of two of his grandparents, each of his mother and father and three of his uncles. “We communicate from the guts, although, with our tales, and folks can determine with that. A number of that’s ardour and ache, and that has to return out of your coronary heart.”
“Robert is a buddy to all. He’s a buddy to everybody in OIP,” says OIP Co-founder and Director Mark Godsey. “Everybody loves Robert. He’s so joyful and within the second. And he has helped so many different exonerees through the years. He’s all the time there in court docket once they get out, and all the time there to assist them modify.”
That’s the intense facet that got here out at this week’s occasion recognizing 10 years of freedom for Robert McClendon. However Bergeron says everybody concerned with OIP is aware of there are different harmless folks at the moment locked up who proceed to wish everybody’s greatest effort.
“While you take a look at the folks which might be out, you assume we’re doing an important job with 27 exonerations,” she says. “However if you find yourself working inside this work and you know the way many different harmless persons are nonetheless imprisoned, you realize there’s far more work we now have to do.”