Exactly 15 years ago today Ru-El Sailor was indicted for the 2002 murder of a man named Omar on the east side of Cleveland over a small drug debt. He was convicted that summer, along with two others, based on shady eyewitness testimony and sentenced to 28 years to life. He has maintained his innocence since the beginning.
Today, he will be transferred from Lucasville to Cuyahoga County jail in advance of a court hearing on Wednesday that will see that murder conviction vacated after the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office Conviction Integrity Unit finished up a years-long look into the case, prodded by Sailor's family and attorneys, as well as an extensive June 2016 Scene feature story on the subject.
They've found what Sailor has said all along: that he wasn't with the shooter that night.
The joint motion, from the prosecutor's office and his attorneys, that will be considered Wednesday should result in his immediate release. Sailor's murder conviction will be vacated, but he will plead to charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, with a sentence of 10 years total time-served. His team will consider appeal options in the future, but for now his family is thrilled he's coming home.
"I didn't think it would feel like this," says Amy Spence, a high school friend of Sailor's who reconnected with him in 2012 and who's spent the last six years working for his vindication. "I'm still a little scared though. It won't be really real until he's home."
Reached for comment, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Mike O'Malley said, "The Conviction Integrity Unit diligently reviewed the application of Ru-El Sailor and then conducted an extensive investigation into his conviction. The Court has scheduled a Wednesday hearing to discuss the findings."
In November 2002, Sailor and his buddies spent a night out drinking in bars and clubs on the east side. Across town, Nicole Hubbard and a group of her friends were drinking and smoking wet — a PCP laced cigarette. At some point, Nicole got into a fight with a man named Clark Lamar over $10. In the dispute, she called her brother, Sailor's best friend Cordell Hubbard. He and another man confronted the other guy hours later. Threats were tossed around. A gun came out. When it was over, Omar Clark was dead.
Cuyahoga County prosecutors originally said Sailor was the second man at the scene of the shooting. Both Nicole and Cordell Hubbard were tried and convicted along with Sailor. Sailor testified at trial. Cordell was his best friend. He thought they were together all night, and even if he had doubts, he wasn't going to ding Cordell. He was loyal.
"It wasn't an option — period," Sailor told Scene in 2016. "Me telling on him, or throwing him under the bus? That was my best friend. We grew up like brothers."
That bit of initial testimony from Ru-El is the reason he'll have to cop to perjury and obstruction.
Only after the verdict did Cordell Hubbard admit in court it wasn't Sailor who was with him, but another friend later identified as Will Sizemore. Sizemore later signed an affidavit admitting it was him and not Ru-El who was with Cordell that night. Cordell signed an affidavit admitting he was the shooter.
Additional supporting affidavits were collected from supporting witnesses and presented in August 2016 to the integrity unit.
Sailor had first made his application to the CIU in August 2014. The unit alerted Sailor it had declined to accept his case in May 2016, but reopened the application shortly thereafter around the time Scene began reporting on Sailor.
It was good news, but his team had sought a new trial for years, bolstered by the fresh affidavits, and got nowhere.
This wasn't an investigation with new DNA evidence though, which would have made their requests easier for courts, notoriously wary of admitting they got it wrong, to stomach. This was delving into hazy, drug-muddied memories from more than a decade ago. It's part of the reason the prosecutor's office has taken so long to come to a decision. Many people connected to the case were reticent with police during the initial investigation, and some didn't even testify at trial. One previously uninterviewed witness appeared before the CIU two weeks ago and helped push the investigation over the finish line.
Two years ago Sailor's attorney, Kimberly Corral, told us:
"For 10 years he's found information to supplement Cordell's story, but the court is saying, 'That's not new; we've known that's your position since 2003. That's basically, for lack of a better word, Sailor's shitty position."
That position is about to change.
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