CLEVELAND - There is a gathering at the Lakewood home of a relative of Raymond Towler. Smiles are in abundance as the family of Towler, 53, celebrates his release from prison based on DNA evidence, which proves he did not rape an 11-year-old girl in 1981.
Towler holds to a bottle of water, which he sips throughout the afternoon enjoying a freedom he has not known in nearly 30 years. Some of his relatives are in tears as they celebrate Towler's release from prison. He is an innocent man; innocent of all the charges to which he was convicted of three decades ago.
However, Towler refuses to use the word "celebrate" as he describes his actions with his family.
"I'm not trying to celebrate this day and make it special," he said, matter-of-factly. "I'm just trying to make this day a start to the next day and to the next day and the days which continue after that."
It was through the efforts of the Ohio Innocence Project, a Cincinnati-based group which pushes to for DNA comparisons of convicted inmates with DNA found in crimes. When Towler was convicted, there was no such technology. However, DNA tests proved Towler's innocence. It has been the same innocence he has maintained since Cleveland Metroparks rangers arrested him in June 1981 for the rape of a girl.
When Cuyahoga County Common Please Court Judge Eileen Gallagher presided over the procedure freeing Towler, even she was brought to tears. The family celebrations began in the courtroom. Beaming a broad smile, Towler left the Justice Center a free man. More importantly, he left an innocent man.
At the gathering of the family in a relative's home, among those in the house was Mark Godsey of the Ohio Innocence Project, which championed the cause of Towler. Godsey called Towler "inspiring" in describing how he dealt with the legal tragedy which disrupted Towler's life.
"He has no anger and no bitterness," said Godsey. "When I met him in prison, he just struck me early-on as an innocent guy."
Towler is walking these first few hours very carefully. He appears to be breathing in the first moments of his freedom, savoring them. When he was asked about his plans, he said he had no definite plans, choosing to left life unfold slowly for him.
"I want to be a student of the world," he said. "I want to find out where I fit."
Towler said he marveled at how quickly the word has gone around the country about his release from prison. His brother, Clarence Settles, said whenever Settles called a friend to tell of the news of his brother, "everyone said they had heard about."
One relative said he has received a telephone call from someone in Las Vegas who knew the story only hours after Towler's release from custody.
Towler, said in prison in Ohio, he was allowed to have his own television set.
"It was my window to the world," he said, adding television was how he kept up with the technological changes of the years.
As he talked, he walked to the glass window in the front door of the house, peering through a different kind of window from the one the TV provided. However, with this door, he opened it gingerly and stepped through it. Outside, Towler breathed in deeply and looked at the spring growth on the front lawn and along the street.
This marked a window and door he could not only see through, but walk through. Raymond Towler took in the sights and looked at the sidewalk running in front of his relative's home, perhaps knowing soon he would follow that sidewalk to wherever it would lead him.
Raymon Towler is a free man with no convictions. Although he spent 29 years in prison, legally, that conviction has been erased. It may be difficult for him to find his step again, but Towler said he would walk the sidewalk again.
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