Call It Even

The wrong guys went down for an old lady's murder. At least the prosecutors are unscathed

No one at the Barley House seems to notice the guy wearing jail-issued clothes on a Thursday night in late March. Not an orange jumpsuit — just denim blues, which from a distance look like something you might buy at the mall, and which easily blend in with the happy-hour crowd at the Warehouse District club. But there on the left pocket is his Trumbull County inmate number next to his name, T. Siller.

Just hours earlier, Thomas Siller was the property of Cuyahoga County, sitting in a cell, as he had for 13 years, for a murder he has maintained since day one that he had no part of, and for which new DNA evidence shows he is telling the truth.

Now he's sipping Guinness and Sam Adams, munching on a corned beef sandwich with a side of stuffed pretzel bites, and laughing. Asked how his first sandwich as a free man tastes, Siller responds, "Good, but the beer is better. How much is a Guinness these days, anyway?"

"Four or five dollars, depending on where you go," someone answers.

"That's not bad," says Siller, before going on to ask about the price of gas, cigarettes, and other daily needs whose prices prove a bit more shocking. Reintegration into society is a long and difficult process, but it begins with the most basic facts — how to get there, how to buy that — and even those are hard to master. Siller borrows a cell phone and with some assistance manages to send his first text message: "Hi, it's Tom. We're at Barley House."

A relative bought Siller some clothes earlier in the day for his post-release gathering, but they were way too big. Siller himself is a uniformly large man; his stout 56-year-old frame topped by a round head. His gray hair long ago gave way to a bald spot. He still looks strong, with muscles hewn from decades of labor now tucked under the extra pounds of prison life.

Everyone figured he'd be released soon, but nobody knew it would be today. "The bailiffs told me they've never seen anyone get out so quickly," says Siller. After more than a decade in prison, weathering two trials and dozens of lawyers, processing his release took just over an hour.

"Yours is still the most complicated case I've ever worked on," says Alba Morales, Siller's attorney from the Innocence Project in New York, and one among the gaggle of lawyers who not only helped secure his release, but also gathered to celebrate.

Faulty evidence made Siller an unlikely murderer all along. At the heart of Siller's case was the testimony of a single shady eyewitness and a forensics expert asleep on the job. But Cuyahoga County prosecutors haven't so much changed their minds as thrown up their hands in light of the overwhelming evidence that runs contrary to their 14-year-old stance.

On this night, however, Siller's case is not to be a topic of discussion. The Innocence Project wants to give its man time to adjust — and besides, Siller just wants to enjoy the moment, enjoy the sandwich, enjoy that beer. He promises one hell of a story. Just not now.

***

Alice Zolkowski's nightgown had been ripped and used to tie her to a chair in her Slavic Village home on the night of June 3, 1997. The single 74-year-old had been gagged and savagely beaten, her blood spattered against the wall behind her and her home ransacked. When it was over, she was barely clinging to life.

Cops would find her in the early hours of June 4 after an anonymous 911 call placed at 3:49 a.m. That call was made by Thomas Siller.

Fingerprints at the house included those of a then-42-year-old Siller, who had done work for Zolkowski, grown close to the woman, and borrowed money from her. Prints were also found matching 41-year-old Walter Zimmer, another worker at the house who had borrowed money, and 29-year-old Jason Smith, a drug dealer with a long rap sheet who never hung out with Siller or Zimmer or worked at Zolkowski's house. All three men had a thirst for crack cocaine.

Zolkowski slipped into a coma, then died two years later without having identified her attacker. But there are two accounts of what happened that night: one espoused by Siller and Zimmer, the other by Smith. The third man was offered a deal by prosecutors: just three years in prison in exchange for testimony against the other two. That testimony, it turns out, was a lie.

***

Thomas Siller grew up on what is now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard before his family hoofed it to the suburb of Bedford Heights. His dad cut trees for the city of Cleveland, his mom worked on and off in restaurants. His aunt ran an ice cream shop where Thomas started scooping lemon ice when he was 11.

But spending summers indoors didn't agree with Siller, who saw his pals working as landscapers beneath the sun and making good money. So he followed suit. By 18, he dropped out of school and took on various jobs, many of them laying bricks. He also took up smoking crack.

Siller married in the early '80s — "the first one my mom liked," he jokes. They met at a Halloween party and ran with some of the same crowd. Together for 13 years and married for 10, the couple had two sons before their relationship crumbled. After failed bouts with rehab, it was Tom who walked away.

"I blame myself," he says. "She was, like, good at everything. I really didn't want to get married, but she kept asking me. She matured, and I grew younger, and that's how we grew apart."

Siller eventually settled into a transient existence in Slavic Village, staying at times with an on-and-off girlfriend, at other times with acquaintances or on his own.

One of the great post-war neighborhoods, Slavic Village was once a genuine ethnic melting pot of families and workers nestled in small, well-constructed houses set close to the street and blanketed by roadside trees.

But after a triple setup of crime, drugs, and suburban exodus, the nuclear explosion of the recent housing crisis and foreclosure delivered an excessive finishing punch to Slavic Village. Today, most blocks boast more orange-spray-painted "No copper, no wire" warnings than street signs.

The erosion was under way in the early 1990s, but Slavic Village had yet to be given up for dead. There, Siller adopted an unofficial schedule of drugs and work, work and drugs. "I'm from the '70s, so I saw nothing wrong with a little bit of participating," he says. "I never had any strong desires. I did it for recreation, to drown my sorrows, just like a person who drinks."

Life in Slavic Village led Siller to Wally Zimmer, who frequented the same bars and parties. Like Siller, Zimmer worked hard — driving trucks and doing other odd jobs — and numbed himself with crack. Also like Siller, he mostly steered clear of trouble. Despite their parallel paths, the two were never more than casual pals.

Siller knew of Jason Smith, but he didn't hang out with him. "I saw him a couple of times at a house or around, you know, but I would always get this bad feeling about him." He says he didn't buy from Smith and warned others to stay away. Zimmer, too, says he didn't buy from Smith.

Siller and Zimmer found work wherever they could get it. That's how they came to ask the old lady on Hosmer Avenue about her chimney.

"One day, me and Wally are walking down the street and I see this chimney. I can see daylight through it," says Siller. "So I knock on the door. This old lady very cautiously opens the door, and I say, 'I notice your chimney, it's not in good shape.'"

The woman, Alice Zolkowski, said she'd been looking for someone to repair it. Siller said he does chimneys.

"I looked at her, looked at the house, and say, 'Well, $175,' or something like that," he recalls. "That's like kibbles and bits compared to what I should have charged or would have charged for someone out in Beachwood. But I look at the house and I look at her, you know. So me and Wally tear it down and put up a new one."

Pleased with the work, Zolkowski began asking Siller about other projects around her house. Could you fix the porch? Could you look at the thermostat? Siller didn't know how to do all she needed, but he helped find others who did. He became a sort of general contractor, earning money to ensure that projects got done.

"One day, I see her giving one of the guys working on the porch some money," he says. "I ask her what's that about. She says, 'It's OK, it's OK,' and she says she knows the guy from before and she's just loaning him some money. She would then offer, If you ever need anything ..."

Siller eventually finished the porch job himself, and Zolkowski paid him extra. He says he told her not to. He says she insisted.

"I said, 'Why don't you put it down as a loan?' That's how the tally sheet got started."

The tally sheet eventually showed that Siller borrowed just over $12,000 from Zolkowski. Zimmer borrowed just over $7,000. It also showed money loaned to two other men. The ledger was dutifully kept by both Zolkowski and Siller, who would help her with the math.

Siller speaks of Zolkowski with great affection, often breaking down in stifled tears. Sometimes she paid him extra, and he told her to mark it as a loan. Some of it he asked for. Sometimes she just handed over checks.

"She started making it too easy," he says. "Worrying about where I was going to stay, how my girlfriend was. She worried about Wally's daughter. She was a lonely lady who wanted someone to be there." Siller tried to repay her various times, though she always refused.

"We did, I would say, take advantage of her," Wally Zimmer says today. "I'm just being honest. We borrowed money. She was nice — real nice. She'd ask me to fix a ceiling tile or something, and I would, and she'd say, 'Here, here, you did work,' and give me money. But I also had to feed my daughter and pay rent, and I'd ask sometimes."

The morning after Zolkowski was found beaten, neighbors told detectives that Siller and Zimmer were often seen around the house. So they went looking for the men on the tally sheet.

***

Siller and Zimmer have relayed essentially the same account of that night for 14 years: They weren't there. In voluntary statements given to detectives, the details remain the same save for some haziness on specific times. They were, after all, getting high that night.

Early in the evening on June 3, Zimmer and Siller say they went to a neighborhood bar called Chaulkie's. There, Siller cashed three checks from Zolkowski in the amounts of $240, $200, and $75. With more than $500 on him, he headed out for the night, driving to a friend's house in a car owned by Siller's sometime girlfriend, Rosie Crowder. The friend later told cops that Siller was there and that he arrived, nicely dressed, in Crowder's car.

Zimmer said he was with Crowder after leaving the bar; Crowder told cops the same; she would be charged with obstruction of justice, the prosecution claiming she lied. (Attempts to reach Crowder were unsuccessful.)

According to Zimmer's original statements to detectives, his testimony, and conversations after his release, he was walking by Zolkowski's house at around 2:30 a.m. and noticed the lights and TV on. Thinking that was strange, he went to knock on the door, but there was no answer. After peering in and seeing Zolkowski's feet sticking out from a chair, he tried the back door, which he found kicked in. He entered to find the house ransacked and Zolkowski tied to a chair, badly beaten.

Zimmer tried shaking her to elicit a response, then picked up the phone to call 911. At that moment, he considered an outstanding warrant he had for a traffic offense, as well as his state of impairment. So he returned to Crowder's house to tell her what had happened instead.

Crowder also didn't want to call 911 because she had drugs in the house. They began paging Siller, putting "911" in the message to convey urgency.

Siller figured Crowder was just bent out of shape and wanted her car back. He left the friend's house and headed down to Hosmer Avenue. When he arrived, Zimmer explained what had happened. Siller yelled at Zimmer for not calling for help, dropped him off at his home, then stopped at a pay phone on nearby Fleet Avenue to place an anonymous 911 call before heading back to Crowder's place.

All three told police what happened and paid it no mind. And for the better part of a year, all was quiet.

But in March 1998, Siller was working at a house in Shaker Heights when somebody from the neighborhood pointed at him and said, "There's the guy that's on TV!" and called the cops. Siller, it turned out, had been featured on an America's Most Wanted type show. He was deemed "armed and dangerous."

"I've shot a gun once in my life. I don't own a gun," he says. "Armed and dangerous?" Cops tracked him down, guns drawn. Zimmer had already been picked up. "I thought it was a case of mistaken identity. Or maybe we were being arrested for not calling 911. I didn't even think about going to jail. If you're innocent, how do you go to prison?"

***

Jason Smith's fingerprints were found on a dresser drawer in Zolkowski's home — a drawer where checks had been kept, but which had been grabbed and then dropped on her dining room table. Cops immediately zeroed in on Smith, who had never previously been to Zolkowski's home but had a long rap sheet.

And unlike the unchanging accounts of Siller and Zimmer, Smith's version of events proved to be much more malleable under scrutiny. This was the state's star witness.

Smith was arrested about a week after the death of Zolkowski. Officers had come looking for him at his girlfriend's home. They returned later, kicking down the door, to find Smith hiding in a closet. "I kind of had an idea of what they wanted," he would testify at trial.

Smith initially proclaimed his innocence, saying that he held down two jobs to stay out of trouble and that he was working that night at the Touch of Italy restaurant. He would later admit the claim was untrue.

When reminded at trial that he had already lied twice about the crime to detectives, Smith replied, "I lied, but I'm not a chronic liar."

While Smith was jailed, another man in the cell next to him was being held for a parole violation. He testified at trial that Smith told him that police had nothing on him, that he was the one who killed Zolkowski, and that he took off his gloves a couple of times while ransacking the house — and that's how a fingerprint ended up on the dresser. He went on to say that he had no partners; he just needed money to buy his girlfriend a house. Smith told the man he had an alibi ready — he was in Kentucky at the time — which is exactly what Smith would tell a detective the following day.

The jailhouse snitch wasn't the only one to say Smith had confessed. At the trials of Zimmer and Siller, another man said Smith called him at a motel in Independence where he was partying with two prostitutes on the night of the attack. Smith told him he "hit a lick" for $2,500, meaning he had stolen a substantial amount of money and was ready to party. Prosecutors questioned the man's word because he was a drug user.

Smith also admitted that he cut his leg on the night in question, and that it happened on the job at Touch of Italy. An odd detail to volunteer, but it came after Smith's girlfriend had warned him that cops confiscated a pair of his pants. Those pants, he knew, had blood on them.

Still, Smith maintained his innocence until March 1998. His girlfriend, who had been charged with obstruction of justice, agreed to testify against Smith, who faced burglary, kidnapping, and aggravated attempted murder charges. Now Smith was ready to talk to prosecutors. (Conveniently, Siller notes, it was clear by this time that Alice Zolkowski would not regain consciousness and thus would never identify her attacker.)

According to Smith, he stopped at Rosie Crowder's house around 9 on the evening of June 3, looking for Siller or Zimmer to help him cash a check to buy drugs. Smith, a black man in a predominantly white neighborhood, claimed he needed the help of Siller, who frequently cashed checks in the area. Instead, Smith claims, Zimmer suggested the trio just go to Zolkowski's house and borrow some money. Smith said he drove them there and waited while Siller and Zimmer went inside, then the three went to buy drugs and smoke them.

As the evening wore on, Smith said, the drugs and money ran out. He suggested they cash his check, then Zimmer suggested they return to Zolkowski's house. There, Zimmer and Siller went into the house, this time through the back door, while Smith waited in the car. Wondering what was taking so long, Smith went inside and found Siller rummaging through the house. He seized upon an opportunity to grab the checks, then came back to see Zimmer hovering over Zolkowski. He dropped the checks, left without saying a word, and went on in search of drugs.

The state could produce no witness who had ever seen Smith hanging out with Siller and Zimmer, let alone on the night in question.

In exchange for Smith's testimony, prosecutors dropped two pending drug charges, handed him just three years in a plea for a single burglary charge, and gave him immunity from further prosecution should Zolkowski die. Years later, Judge Christine McMonagle would call this a "breathtakingly favorable plea deal."

Smith had a history of those.

In March 1998, while setting up his deal to testify against Siller and Zimmer, Smith was double-dipping at the jailhouse: He wore a wire for the Sheriff's office and "entered into a sexual liaison" with a male nurse at the jail, according to court documents. He eventually testified at the nurse's trial.

One month after his release from prison on June 12, 2000, Smith was already back to using crack when he grabbed a purse from a lady at Kmart, racking up a fresh aggravated robbery charge. He then struck another deal: He told prosecutors another man had confessed to a murder in prison. Smith's testimony in that case whittled his sentence to one year.

In 2001, he was involved in an accident in the Warehouse District. After attempting to flee the scene, Smith struggled with an officer through the car window and was shot three times. He survived, but was rendered a quadriplegic.

Siller and Zimmer were tried together and convicted in 1998. Siller was given 20 years, Zimmer 40.

Alice Zolkowski died on April 26, 1999. Her death sent Siller and Zimmer back to trial, this time for murder.

***

Jason Smith explained the blood on his pants in three different ways.

At the time of his arrest in 1997, he volunteered that he had cut himself at work on the night Zolkowski was beaten. By the time of Siller and Zimmer's first trial, Smith claimed he had accidentally cut himself on broken glass after slamming a door at his girlfriend's house.

And when Siller and Zimmer faced murder charges a year later, Smith said he got hurt kicking in the door at his girlfriend's house because she had locked him out.

Besides the revolving testimony of Smith, the prosecution's case hinged mainly on the expertise of Joseph Serowik, a forensic specialist for Cleveland Police. In the first trial, Serowik testified that there was one spot of blood on Smith's pants, and that blood belonged to Smith.

Under cross examination in the second trial, however, Serowik buckled when asked about a discolored spot on the back of Smith's pants. Serowik could not say whether or not it had been tested. The judge ordered Serowik to retest the spot; Serowik returned six days later to testify that 1) the spot had been tested before the first trial and came up positive for blood, and 2) the new test showed that the blood belonged to the victim, Alice Zolkowski. Serowik also said every dark spot on the pants was retested, and that the circled spot was the only one that was blood.

This revelation sent the courtroom into a tizzy: The guy who said he was nowhere near the old lady suddenly had her blood on him. Prosecutors considered pulling Smith's deal on the spot, but instead went along with the case, giving Smith an opportunity to explain away the new evidence and for them to explain their case anew.

This time, Smith said he may have been close enough to Zolkowski that the blood flew and landed on him. Or maybe he brushed up against Zimmer.

Prosecutors, who had previously said that whoever beat Zolkowski would have her blood on his pants, now said that if Jason Smith was the one who beat her, "there would be more blood and it would be on the front of his pants." There would be a spatter pattern.

The jury bought Smith's revised story. Siller was convicted for murder and sentenced to 30 years without parole. Zimmer, whose trial was to begin after Siller's, faced the death penalty and had just watched a jury convict Siller. He took a plea bargain for involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to ten years to run concurrently with his 40-year sentence from the first trial.

***

Serowik's work on the cases of Siller and Zimmer were not his only bouts with sloppiness. As it turned out, he treated DNA testing and his lab like a 10-year-old treats his first at-home science kit. The case of Anthony Michael Green would blow open his work and blow up his reputation.

Green was convicted of rape based largely on DNA testing and testimony by Serowik. Further DNA testing exonerated Green after 13 years of imprisonment, and a civil suit proved Serowik lied during the trial. He was fired in 2004.

The city of Cleveland investigated its forensics lab, including an audit of cases in which Serowik was used.

Siller filed for new DNA testing of Jason Smith's pants. The state opposed. After Siller acquired the counsel of the Innocence Project, new testing was approved, and 20 blood spatters were found on the front of Smith's pants. Nine were tested, seven were the blood of Zolkowski.

Siller filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied by Judge Steven Terry but successfully appealed. In June 2009, Siller was granted a new chance at justice: a retrial in September 2011.

***

But the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office was not going to make it easy. Through the years, the office became known for unleashing mocking quips and puffy-chest declarations reaffirming its belief in Siller's guilt and support of Jason Smith.

Prosecutor Bill Mason opposed Siller's initial request for new DNA testing in 2004. In 2007, after the Innocence Project joined Siller's cause, Mason told The Plain Dealer, "I'll take a closer look at this case, but they lost their way on this one. They must be running out of innocent people to represent." (Mason's office declined via e-mail to comment for this story.)

When Mason's office decided to fight the appeal, Assistant County Prosecutor Matt Meyer told the paper, "This has been a battle from the get-go — and all it did was reconfirm what we already know. It is important to expose this fraud, because we've spent four and a half years of the public's money litigating a lie."

In late 2010, while preparing for Siller's retrial, the prosecutor's office shipped evidence — including Zolkowski's bindings and nightgown — for new DNA testing. The results: The only DNA on the bindings besides Zolkowski's belonged to the state's star witness, Jason Smith.

"He snookered us a little bit," Mason told The Plain Dealer. "We're working in the mud with defendants and witnesses all the time, and you make your best call on a person's credibility. But given all that has happened in this case, this was the right thing to do."

Mason also made a point to clarify that the DNA results did not rule out Siller or Zimmer as accomplices. In May, Smith was extradited from his new home in Atlanta and charged with two counts of perjury and three counts of obstruction of justice. A Plain Dealer editorial lauded Mason's "aggressive pursuit of justice."

“They [The Plain Dealer] went out of their way to point out that nothing happened until the prosecutors sent the bindings,” says Alba Morales. “The bindings were initially sent off and with improvements we were able to find DNA this time. It was not the prosecution who initiated the testing of the bindings. When everything went out, the bindings went out.”

Mason's office had no evidence against Siller and a mountain of new evidence against Smith. To Siller’s camp, an aggressive pursuit of justice would have meant dropping the charges outright. Instead, prosecutors offered a deal: He could walk away with time served in exchange to pleading guilty to three felony counts of theft. Or they could take him to trial again.

***

"Everybody on our side held their nose," says Kevin Spellacy, an attorney who worked with the Innocence Project on Siller's case.

"Given the prosecutor's office we were dealing with, I knew better than to assume anything," says Alba Morales, another Siller attorney.

Siller took the deal, but only after dispatching his lawyers to ask his family whether they'd rather have him come home or continue the fight to clear his name. "Come home" was the resounding answer.

"Preferably, we'd like to have seen him vindicated," says Spellacy. "We like to say go to trial, make them prove it, and you're found not guilty. That's the ideal result. I told him point blank we'll try your case. Nothing would make me happier than to cross examine that idiot [Smith]. But when it comes with an enormous amount of risk ... Tom had to decide the quickest way to go home."

"I had enough. I had enough of the madness," says Siller. "Let me throw myself under the bus, go home, and get out of the prosecutor's way so they can convict the right person in Alice's murder. That's what I was thinking. I always wanted to go back to trial. I always thought they'd eventually be stand-up enough to admit they're wrong."

Zimmer was offered the same deal and was released shortly after. "The first thing I asked when my attorney told me about the deal was, 'What's Tom doing? Is Tom fighting it?' They told me Tom took it. I kind of couldn't believe it."

Zimmer said he had received offers over the years in exchange for testimony against Siller.

"I told them I'd be lying on Tom," he says. "I never did. I never did."

Siller says each man is lucky the other is a moral and honest guy.

The two men are free after 14 years of proclaiming innocence from the inside, but they're unable to proclaim total innocence on the outside. Multiple people familiar with the case say Siller and Zimmer were warned not to say they lied when they took the plea bargain for theft charges. Yet it's impossible for anyone to point to what they stole to justify the felony charges, each of which carries a $100,000 threshold.

"I cried through that part — the part where you say yes to the judge when he reads the charges," Siller says. "I just couldn't say yes that easy, it's like ...," and the tears come again.

"The deal was a joke. Siller and Zimmer had to 'admit' to stealing more money than Alice Zolkowski even had," says Ashlie Case Sletvold, a civil-rights attorney who worked on Siller's appeal. "In offering this 'deal,' the prosecutors did not seem to be out for justice. They seemed to be massaging their wounded egos and trying to stave off a civil suit for the wrongful convictions."

On June 14, Jason Smith posted bail for charges of obstruction of justice and perjury. Spokesman Ryan Miday told The Plain Dealer the prosecutor's office will likely seek to negate Smith's original plea, which could allow them to pursue charges for Zolkowski's murder. A pretrial conference was set for July 5. (A number listed for Jason Smith has been disconnected; Smith's attorney did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

***

Lawyers familiar with the case say Siller and Zimmer have solid legal ground for compensation from the state.

"On a moral level, I think he deserves it," says attorney Morales. "On a legal level, I don't know what his chances are."

One thing's for sure: They could use the money.

Heavy rains have made masonry work hard to come by for Siller, who lives in a rural suburb that he would rather not have identified. He recently landed a job on an elementary school construction site, but the work has taken its toll on his 56-year-old body. "I get sore real quick," he says. "It'll come back, but for now it's rough. I used to fuck with the old guys, tell them I could pull another 12-hour shift after just finishing a 12-hour shift. Now I'm the old guy."

He receives $200 a month in food stamps. "That don't buy anything," he says. The Innocence Project assists with bills for his prescriptions — high cholesterol, blood pressure, etc. — and reimburses him for necessities. Maybe there's a union job in his future — the ones that pay $24.50 an hour or so, by his math. But for now he's humping for a lot less.

In the meantime, he putzes around. Cleaning, fixing, and cooking up chicken parmesan, pork chops, and other dishes he recalls from his days working in restaurants. "And with chicken livers, the key is to sear them, you know," he says. "My mom used to overcook the crap out of them, but when you sear them real nice, they are great."

A full belly belies the emptiness that permeates much of Siller's life beyond the prison bars. He has not spoken to his ex-wife. He is proud of his two sons, though they don't speak to their father — didn't throughout his incarceration.

"They almost came to see me once," he says, his voice giving way to tears again.

Walter Zimmer lives in Brunswick with a friend — the same friend who hooked him up with a painting job that keeps him working every day. His daughter stuck by him throughout his ordeal, and she celebrated with him upon his release. She'll be going to college soon, and Dad is saving up to buy her a computer off Craigslist.

Some of his meager prison savings went toward a 10-year-old SUV he bought for $1,100. The owner knocked $900 off after hearing Zimmer's story.

He says his faith has never wavered; he attends church every Sunday and keeps his nose clean: He doesn't drink and hasn't done drugs. One failed attempt at achieving a commercial driver's license hasn't deterred him from trying again.

Within weeks of their release, Siller and Zimmer were invited to the international Innocence Project convention in Cincinnati, a gathering of more than 100 exonerated prisoners. It offered the only environment in which either man has felt completely at ease since leaving prison.

"There's a bond there," says Siller. "My story has a lot of twists and turns, but there are some absolute horror stories out there. Stories that make you feel lucky. Sometimes I look at mine and think it's nothing."

He also knows there are some who will question his innocence, those who doubt the wrong man can be convicted.

"But I pray for those that don't believe this can happen, that this never happens to them."

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