Sailor in a recent jailhouse photo
More than a decade into a prison stay for a crime he says he didn't commit, Ru-El Sailor may finally have a sturdy foundation for hope. As we detailed in a cover story earlier this year
, the 30-year-old Clevelander is serving a 28-years-to-life sentence for a 2002 street killing, a flash of violence tied more to bad decisions than the street beefs and gang violence precipitating most of the dropped bodies in Cleveland's East Side. Sailor's own involvement seems mostly rooted in misplaced loyalties — he wasn't even there, he claims. But as the situation stands now, Sailor is at a legal logjam, his escape routes out of his conviction limited.
But some new developments since our piece was published — including two new affidavits filed in the case — could be game-changers. "For the first time, and in a more serious way than ever before, there is momentum behind this case," Sailor's lawyer, Kimberly Corral, told Scene
In November 2002, Sailor and his buddies spent a night out drinking in bars and clubs on the East Side. Across town, Nicole Hubbard and a group of her friends were drinking and smoking wet — a PCP laced cigarette. At some point, Nicole got into a fight with a man named Clark Lamar over $10. In the dispute, she called her brother, Sailor's best friend Cordell Hubbard. He and another man confronted the other guy hours later. Threats were tossed around. A gun came out. When it was over, Omar Clark was dead.
Cuyahoga County prosecutors originally said Ru-El Sailor was the second man on the scene of the shooting. Both Nicole and Cordell Hubbard were tried and convicted along with Sailor. Only after the verdict did Cordell Hubbard admit in court it wasn't Sailor who was with him, but another friend later identified as Will Sizemore.
Sailor's attorney now has two more pieces of information that help bolster his plea for release. Recently, Corral visited with Nicole Hubbard in prison. In her first statement at any time in this case (she did not testify at trial), she paints a picture that is very different from the state's case and one that also syncs with Sailor's tale.
In the handwritten affidavit — signed and notarized — Nicole says she drinking and smoking wet with Lamar and others throughout the night. When she was dropped him off at home, Nicole says she was expecting him to pay her back for the drugs. Instead: "When Clark Lamar came out of the house he had a hand gun in his hand and he was smiling. I asked him, 'Dude, you pulling a gun on me?' Clark Lamar replied, 'No," still smiling with the gun in his hand. I immediately pulled out of the drive way and took off."
Nicole admits she called her brother and relayed the situation. Later, she says in her affidavit, Cordell told her he "and his n**** Will was on my side of town" — reference again to Will Sizemore.
A second affidavit also points in the direction that it was Sizemore, and not Sailor, who was with Cordell that night. Anthony McKenzie was with Cordell and Sailor as they drank and clubbed throughout the night of the murder. "Cordell and Will Sizemore left the bar together," McKenzie writes in his own recent affidavit. He also claims he didn't come forward with this information early because he was scared off by police.
According to Corral, these affidavits, along with other information, will form the backbone of a new trial motion that she's currently working on with the Ohio Innocence Project. Corral also says she has been informed by the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office that Sailor's file at the county's Conviction Integrity Unit has also been re-opened.
All this good news for Sailor comes with some bad: he was recently transferred to the state prison in Lucasville, hours away from family and his legal support. Still, "he's really excited," Corral says. "But any time you get close to the finish line, it gets hard."