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'He won vindication, he cleared his name.' Friends and supporters honor Isaiah Andrews

Isaiah Andrews
Brian Howe
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With the help of the Ohio Innocence Project, Isaiah Andrews was freed from prison in 2020 after serving 45 years for murder. A jury found him not guilty of the crime when he was retried in 2021.

Friends and supporters gathered Wednesday at a memorial service for Isaiah Andrews, who was wrongly imprisoned for decades before being exonerated.

Andrews succumbed to cancer on Sunday. He was 83 years old.

About 50 people attended the service at the Chagrin Valley Islamic Center in Solon.

Tears fell freely as those who knew Andrews spoke of a man who was committed to his faith, who was humble, who was happy to be free.

Andrews spent 45 years behind bars for the murder of his wife Regina before he was freed in 2020 with the help of the Ohio Innocence Project.

Brian Howe, who led the Ohio Innocence Project legal team working on Andrews' case, spoke at the memorial. He called Andrews a tough, resilient fighter.

“It would be a real shame, I think, if we let the grief over the injustice that happened to him overshadow the fact that, in the end, after 48 years, after 48 years of fighting, he was victorious. He won,” Howe said. “He did not win justice because it was too late for that, but he won his freedom. He won vindication. He cleared his name.”

andrews mourners.jpg
Jenny Hamel
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Ideastream Public Media
When Andrews was released from prison, he lived with others who had been exonerated. They paid tribute to Andrews at his memorial service Wednesday.

In 2021, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O'Malley retried Andrews after new evidence of police misconduct led to his release from prison. A jury found Andrews not guilty of murder after an hour of deliberation.

Jeanna Kenney, a prison reform activist, spent time at Andrews’ bedside before he succumbed to cancer. She told those at the service that Andrews died at peace.

Those who knew him, she said, must ensure his story continues.

“There's wrongful convictions happening everyday. People need to know Isaiah's story, period. Just because he's no longer physically with us, it's up to us as people who know his story now to carry on his legacy and ensure that these things don't happen ever again,” Kenney said.

In 2022, Andrews sued the city of Cleveland in federal court. He alleged the city and Cleveland police officers violated his civil rights before and after sending him to prison in 1975 for murdering his wife.

His attorney, Marcus Sidoti, said he still plans to hold those “who should be held accountable” for wrongdoing through federal and state lawsuits.

But he said the memorial should be reserved to joyfully honor the man Andrews was.

“I hope that Isaiah is a beacon for others, for hope for other exonerees, for those that are wrongfully incarcerated,” Sidoti said. “But today, I want to celebrate them, and I want to celebrate what he's given us and what he's provided.”

Ideastream Public Media's Matt Richmond contributed to this story.

Jenny Hamel is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media and calls the eastside of Cleveland home. Prior to that, she was a reporter for KCRW, the NPR affiliate in Los Angeles, covering a range of issues from immigration to politics.