CLEVELAND (WJW) – It was a long-fought victory Monday for a Cleveland Heights man who spent 16 years behind bars for a rape he did not commit.
A Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge officially exonerated 44-year-old Christopher Miller, but his fight for justice is long from over.
“Christopher Miller is declared by this court to be a wrongfully imprisoned individual,” ruled Judge Kelly A. Gallagher.
Judge Gallagher said the words that Miller has been waiting to hear for more than twenty years. His smiles turned to tears of joy.
Miller spoke to FOX 8 after the court hearing saying that he grew as a person and trusted that God was working during that time he spent in prison, even though he knew he was innocent.
“It’s been a long time to hear the judge say that, after all these years. It ain’t sunk in yet. I’m about to go sleep on this one definitely, it feels good though,” Miller said.
In January 2002, Miller was convicted of attacking and raping a woman inside her Cleveland Heights apartment a year earlier, along with two other men. Through the years, he maintained his innocence and lost court appeals until attorneys uncovered new DNA evidence they say pointed to the other men in the case.
Miller’s conviction was vacated in 2018 and he was released from prison, but Cuyahoga County prosecutors still had the option of trying his case again.
“I’m always worried about it. You would always have to be thinking about it. Would they come get me?” Miller said.
“We now know the other people who did actually commit this crime, so there’s no question that he’s innocent and we’re going to keep pursuing every avenue that we have available to us so that Chris’ family can be compensated,” said attorney Sarah Gelsomino.
Miller says he wants to focus on his family: three children, one grandchild and two more on the way. His oldest daughter and granddaughter witnessed the moment in court.
“She was a couple years older than her when I went to jail, to prison,” said Miller.
“It’s also a very big thing for me, though, because hearing that, trying to explain to people when you’re younger, that my father’s innocent and all that is kind like an ‘ok, yeah,’ but now it’s real,” said his daughter, Chareale Miller.
Chris calls himself a fighter and says his patience and persistence led to this day.
“He knew he was there for a crime he didn’t commit and he kept his spirit and that is so remarkable. I’m so in awe of him,” said Gelsomino.
“It’s been a long time, a long time, but this feels good, this definitely feels good, this feels right,” Miller said.
Miller’s attorneys say he could be entitled to about $56,000 from the state of Ohio for each year he was wrongfully imprisoned.
They also plan to file a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Cleveland Heights, claiming they mishandled the investigation.
Cleveland Heights police chief Annette Mecklenburg told FOX 8 she has no comment on the case.