CLEVELAND, Ohio — RuEl James Sailor became a free man exactly one year ago after spending years behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit. On Thursday he returned to the same courthouse where his life took its worst turn in 2003 to marry the woman he loves.
Clad in a black shirt, black slacks and a matching white bow-tie and suspenders, he gazed into Amy Catherine Gangloff Spence’s eyes and declared that the day was not about the past.
“Today marks the first day of our future,” he said to Spence during the brief ceremony at the Cuyahoga County courthouse. “Everything in the past, is the past. Today, we get a whole new life and start over.”
Dozens of friends and family members attended the roughly 10-minute ceremony. Many of those same people gathered in the same building on the same day last year to watch him take his first steps outside of prison walls in 15 years.
The courthouse steps where the two exchanged vows have been the site of some of the most consequential moments of Sailor’s life and his relationship with Spence, said Kimberly Kendall Corral, Sailor’s lawyer who also officiated his wedding. Spence led protests to fight for his freedom on those steps and, when he finally realized that freedom on March 28, 2018, he took his first steps outside as a free man down the notoriously windy corridor.
Sailor was freed on March 28, 2018, when Common Pleas Court Judge Nancy McDonnell vacated his murder conviction in the November 2002 death of Omar Clark. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley’s office found after a 15-month investigation that Sailor wasn’t even at the scene of the homicide that Sailor had always insisted he didn’t commit.
Key witnesses recanted their testimony in the years that followed his conviction, but appeals courts continued to reject his requests for a new trial, and former Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty twice rejected Sailor’s applications to have the conviction integrity unit examine his case.
O’Malley agreed to re-examine the case.
In exchange for dropping the charges, Sailor agreed to plead guilty to perjury and obstruction of justice charges for lying on the stand during his trial and received a 10-year sentence. He got credit for time served and was ordered released from custody.
Spence and Sailor began corresponding when he was in prison and fighting for his freedom. The two began dating and Spence picked up the torch and amplified the fight. She organized and led protests outside the justice center and spoke at public candidate forums when O’Malley was challenging McGinty for prosecutor.
“The power of their love bent the bars between them,” Corral said. “The persistence of their love changed and opened closed minds. The light of their love put brightness on truth. Through their perfect love, they did the amazing and impossible task of bending an imperfect system toward justice.”