Ohioan gets $2.59 million for serving 30 years in wrongful conviction

By Mike Wagner

The Columbus Dispatch ⁠Tuesday April 26, 2011 7:05 AM

A DNA test proved Ray Towler did not commit the Cuyahoga County rape in 1981.

A record $2.59 million settlement has been awarded to Ray Towler for serving nearly 30 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit.

Towler will report for work this morning in a corporate Cleveland mailroom, where he plans to remain through this summer even after his money arrives in about a week.

“You can’t make up for 30 years with any amount, but I plan to keep moving forward,” said Towler, 53, who works for Medical Mutual of Ohio. “I don’t want this money to change who I am or what I become. I was lucky to find a job when I got out, and I’m not going to just run out on them.”

The State Controlling Board approved Towler’s settlement yesterday, nearly one year after he was released from the Grafton Correctional Institution last May. Towler couldn’t attend the meeting because of his job. He will receive the money in a lump sum, and his attorneys will receive $78,000 in legal fees.

At the afternoon meeting, state Rep. Clayton Luckie, D-Dayton, offered Towler an apology and encouraged the state to conduct more DNA testing.

“Too many individuals are found guilty by association or are in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Luckie said after the meeting. “We should apologize when we make a mistake and lock up an innocent person. I hope this is a step in the healing process for Mr. Towler.”

Towler doesn’t have big spending plans once the money is deposited into his accounts. He plans to pay off the $13,800 he owes on his 2010 Ford Focus. He plans to upgrade from a one-bedroom apartment to maybe a two- or three-bedroom place. Most of the money will be put into savings accounts and an annuity, but Towler is going to take part of the settlement to thank those who have stood by him and believed in his innocence.

“I want to be smart with the money, but life is just too short to center my world around money,” Towler said. “Being out for a year has made me realize some of the things I missed for so long. But things happen for a reason, and I have no hate for anyone.”

Only a handful of the 268 men who have been exonerated nationally by DNA testing have served more time than Towler. Towler was the third man to be proved innocent in connection with a Dispatch investigation, “Test of Convictions.”

The series published in 2008 exposed holes in the DNA testing system, helped spur testing for inmates such as Towler and led state lawmakers to pass sweeping legislation aimed at preventing more wrongful convictions.

Towler was serving 12 years to life for rape, felonious assault and kidnapping for an abduction on May 24, 1981. The victims, a 12-year-old girl and a 13-year-old boy, said a man lured them into the woods at the Rocky River Reservation in Cuyahoga County. DNA testing proved that semen found in the girl’s underwear was not Towler’s.

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