Raymond Towler, who has served nearly three decades in prison for a crime he did not commit, was released as a free man on May 5, 2010 thanks to the efforts of the Ohio Innocence Project, based out of the University of Cincinnati College of Law.
Towler is the longest serving wrongfully incarcerated inmate to be released in Ohio history, and one of the longest in United States history. He is the 10th individual released through the efforts of the Ohio Innocence Project since its founding in 2003.
"It's hard to believe he's been in prison for 30 years – it's hard to wrap my mind around that," says Eric Gooding, who was one of the UC law students who worked on Towler's case and was in Cleveland for Wednesday's hearing. "But his patience was amazing. He never seemed angry when you would talk to him."
DNA testing completed May 3 conclusively proved that Towler was not the perpetrator in a juvenile rape and assault case that occurred on May 24, 1981, in Cleveland. Towler, who is now 52 years old, was convicted to a sentence of life in prison on Sept. 18, 1981.
UC law students who worked on Towler's case include third-year students Gooding and Brian Howe, and second-year students Matt Katz and Chris Brown.
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Eileen Gallagher wept during a final hearing Wednesday morning as she read the words that freed Towler.
"It was great to see, and it got very emotional," says Brian Howe, who was also in attendance at Wednesday's hearing. "The judge read that old Irish prayer about 'May the road rise up to meet you,' and then she made an eloquent speech. She got very emotional at the end."
Howe and Gooding went through the letdown in 2008 of getting back an initial batch of DNA testing that could have cleared Towler, but it was deemed not conclusive enough by the justice system. "He's always been upbeat, though," Howe said of Towler. "One of the downsides of working with the Innocence Project is that the cases take so long that most times you aren't around to see them end. But I loved working the Innocence Project, and now this is a great gift to have occur during the same week as graduation."
Howe and Gooding will both take part in the UC College of Law's 177th annual Hooding Ceremony on Saturday.
Other members of the Ohio Innocence Project, who have been working on Towler's case since 2004, were in attendance at Wednesday's hearing, as were attorneys who represented Towler from the law firms of Jones Day and Berkman, Gordon, Murray & DeVan.
Among those who worked on Towler's behalf were: