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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Robert McClendon Says Hello to Freedom

Dna_free_man Shortly after sunrise, the inmates in the stark prison yard cheered wildly and pumped their fists for Robert McClendon as he took his final steps toward freedom.

The Columbus man grinned as he walked past the concrete-block walls and curls of barbed wire, no longer condemned for a child rape that DNA shows he didn't commit.

Still, there would be a full day of paperwork and technicalities before the 52-year-old was released from handcuffs and leg shackles.

Grandchildren and a throng of family members and supporters nearly tackled him when he finally appeared -- a free man after 18 years -- in a back entrance of the Downtown county jail at 5 p.m.

"I'm just glad to be here with my family, who's supported me all these years," McClendon said. Of the time lost, he added: "You can't make it up. All you can do is move forward."

Shouted one woman, "Thank you, everybody! Thank you, God!"

Franklin County Judge Charles A. Schneider freed McClendon yesterday. He and Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien wished McClendon well and expressed gratitude that technology and the legal process were able to right a wrong.

"Eighteen years is an awful long period of time," Schneider said afterward. "But nonetheless, the ship got righted. I wish him the best of luck."

O'Brien said: "Hopefully, after all this, he lives with his family and rejoices. I don't want anybody in jail who doesn't belong there."

The judge's decision came after the Ohio Innocence Project and O'Brien reached agreement on a motion seeking a new trial -- a legal device that allowed McClendon to be released on his own recognizance.

The Innocence Project, a legal clinic based at the University of Cincinnati, represented McClendon.

"It's fantastic. It shows the DNA testing law can work," said Jennifer Paschen Bergeron, McClendon's lead attorney. "It's a great day for McClendon and the Innocence Project."

The prosecutor said that his office has turned its focus to finding out who actually raped the girl. The judge set a hearing for Aug. 26 to discuss how to move forward.

The sperm samples collected from the victim's underwear have not yet been put in the national database of DNA collected from criminals, the prosecutor said. [Mark Godsey]

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