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University of Akron offers full-ride scholarships to 2 men who were exonerated after 15 years in prison

“I was on my way here — I never got to make it here,” Sutton said. “I was coming to Akron for business administration. I had a full ride.”
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Posted at 5:53 PM, Mar 09, 2023

AKRON, Ohio — Kenny Phillips and Michael Sutton, of Cleveland, were still in high school when they were accused of attempted murder and robbed of their future plans. It was a crime that they didn’t commit.

On Thursday, leaders at the University of Akron attempted to right a wrong: offering the two men full-ride scholarships to college.

“It feels like a dream come true,” said Sutton. “This was something I always dreamed about but being locked in prison for so long I didn’t think it could happen.”

Gary Miller, the president of the University of Akron, said after hearing their story, leaders at the university knew they wanted to help.

“As a university of opportunity, we can offer them an opportunity here that they had not had or had ripped from them,” he said. “We used our regular scholarship method to figure out a package of aide for them and we’ve offered them a full scholarship to do whatever they decide to do.”

In May of 2006, the two best friends were about to graduate high school. Sutton had a full-ride scholarship to the University of Akron and Phillips had college on his mind, too. They went out with friends to celebrate Phillips’ 18th birthday.

“It went down the same night as my 18th birthday,” said Phillips. “Everybody was like ‘let’s go out for your birthday, let’s celebrate,’ but wrong place, wrong time.”

Police suspected them in connection with a drive-by shooting at East 55th Street and Woodland Avenue. They were arrested, charged with attempted murder and convicted. Phillips was sentenced to 92 years in prison and Sutton 41 years.

They maintained their innocence, and in May of 2021, were released from prison. In September of last year, they were exonerated after spending 15 years behind bars.

Now, Phillips, 34, and Sutton, 35, are planning to get back some of what they lost, by starting their freshman year at the University of Akron this fall.

“I was on my way here I never got to make it here,” said Sutton. “I was coming to Akron for business administration. I had a full ride.”

Sutton had a scholarship to Akron in 2006.

“This is their story to tell and their story to live, but we wanted to make sure that whatever they decide to do, if they chose to go back to college, that they do it here,” said Miller. “We want to welcome them back into the community.”

Sutton said he plans to major in business. Philips said he isn’t quite sure, yet, but he is considering business, sports management or social work.

“God gave us back everything we thought we lost, double time,” said Phillips. “I gotta keep going strong not just for myself, because I thought it was for myself, but for God. He was like, ‘No, I saved you for a reason, keep putting out the message.’”

The two plan to start classes in the fall.

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