CINCINNATI, Ohio— Prisoners have become a hot-button topic during the Coronavirus Pandemic. Some inmates have been released to help control the spread of COVID-19. But another is now out because he shouldn’t have been there in the first place. And this release – a dozen years in the making – is music to one family’s ears.
Chris Smith was supposed to be the next big thing in music.
But 12 years ago, those plans got put on hold- after Smith was sentenced to 18 years in prison for armed robbery.
“It was a car connected to him," Mark Godsey the Director of the Ohio Innocence Project said. "It was his girlfriends car, but he often used it that was used in an armed robbery of a Cincinnati Bell star eon the west side.”
But it turns out Smith didn’t commit the crime. DNA on the suspect’s costume that was never released during trial proved that Chris wasn’t involved in the crime.
“Prosecution and police have a duty to disclose that before trial," Godsey said. "But it took twelve years to get it corrected. So he was in prison for 12 years while it worked through the system.”
That’s where the Ohio Innocence Project came in. Along with Chris’s attorney, the Ohio Innocence Project took on the case to fight for Chris’s innocence. Chris says serving time for a crime he didn’t commit was psychologically challenging. But he tried to remain positive.
“Do your best to endure whatever comes your way with this idea like one day I will receive proper justice," Smith said.
And that day did come. The court of appeals ruled in Chris’s favor last June. He just had to wait for the court to sign off on his release.
“I always knew this day would come," Smith said.
But it took longer than expected to get Chris out. Once the Coronavirus pandemic hit, his attorney Michele Berry wrote motions and notices to the federal judge, who responded quickly and ordered Chris’s immediate release, especially because he was at high risk to die from the disease. But instead, Chris was sent to the Hamilton County Justice Center and waited an additional five days.
“You never see that happen," Berry said. "That was just an utter abuse of power and really the state not complying with the federal court’s order.”
But finally, Chris was released.
“I just breathed," Smith said. "I was just finally able to breath.”
The Ohio Innocence Project helped find a place for Chris to live and work. It has also connected Chris with other exonerees that have been freed from prison to help him navigate being back in society.
“They have very much a brotherhood, where they have each other’s back," Godsey said.
Chris is now enjoying time with his family and kids. He also is back to his true love of singing and recording music.
“It’s therapeutic," Smith said. "So every time I get in that booth and I record it’s like a lot is coming out me, I’m just releasing.”
He says now that he’s out he wants to make everyday count.
“I wanted to come home and make sure every single day I did in there was for something," Smith said. "And I refuse to let anything I endured these 12 and a half years be in vain.”