Ohio Innocence Project: Man sentenced to 92-plus years in jail says he didn’t shoot at Cleveland police

Ohio Innocence Project: Man sentenced to 92-plus years in jail says he didn’t shoot at Cleveland police
20-year-old Leo Santiago Chavez convicted. (Source: Raycom images)

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Each day, the Ohio Innocence Project receives emails and letters from inmates all throughout the state claiming they have been wrongfully put in prison.

In 2006, Kenny Phillips, along with Michael Sutton, were arrested and charged with attempted murder.

At the time, both had just reached their 18th birthday and had a promising future ahead of them.

However, the shooting, which occurred that night at a Marathon gas station on East 55th Street and Woodland Avenue in Cleveland, altered their lives forever.

Sutton told police he witnessed someone’s arm firing a gun in front of his car; however, minutes later, he and Phillips became prime suspects.

At sentencing, Phillips received 92-plus years while Sutton got 46-plus, all for allegedly shooting at Cleveland police officers.

This is the nightmare Elaine Phillips Witherspoon, Phillips' mother, has been living in real time for the past 14 years.

“I prayed to have a son. And for them to take that away from me, him away from me, I was messed up.” Witherspoon went on to say. “When we went to court and they said 92 years, I almost passed out. They put me out the courtroom and I told them they were all liars."

The Phillips family is in strong denial that Kenny had anything to do with the shooting.

Kenisha Hughley doesn’t believe it for one second.

“When somebody tells you that your brother shot somebody, I knew, I am telling you I knew, that’s not even my brother,” Hughley said.

As Thanksgiving approaches, Witherspoon can only hope her son can walk through her door as a free man. Each holiday, she leaves a table setting for such a special occasion.

“Please let him come home this holiday. If it don’t be this holiday, it will be the next year. Please let him be home for this year. And nothing is happening,” said Witherspoon.

There are two organizations working on the cases for Sutton and Phillips.

Joanna Sanchez, the lead attorney on Phillips' case, is with the Wrongful Conviction Project.

Donald Caster, an attorney with the Ohio Innocence Project, is steadfast that both Sutton and Phillips are innocent, especially with new evidence and discovery that could free them both.

“Two Cleveland police officers, one current and one former, have come forward and said the original testimony from other officers doesn’t make sense from what they saw,” Caster said.

Today, so many questions have come up in this case that the Ohio Innocence Project is convinced that both Sutton, now 33, and Phillips, now 32 years old, could be free any day now.

Their fate is now in the hands of the Ohio 8th District Court of Appeals, a ruling to reexamine their case could end up with both men free.

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