CLEVELAND, Ohio — March 26 has come to symbolize new beginnings for Laurese Glover. On the date in 2015, he and two friends walked out of prison after the trio had served 20 years for a murder they didn’t commit.
Saturday, the men, known as the East Cleveland Three, celebrated the anniversary of their freedom along with the grand opening of Glover’s eastside restaurant, aptly named Truth Seafood 7.
“I always tell people that I’m fortunate to have two birthdays because this is the day we got our life back seven years ago, so I consider March 26 as my second birthday,” Glover said. “Every year since I’ve been home, I throw a party every March 26 to celebrate our anniversary. This year is extra sweet because I own a restaurant and we get to have it at my own place.”
Glover, along with Eugene Johnson and Derrick Wheatt, were implicated in the 1995 murder of Clifton Hudson Jr. on Strathmore Avenue in East Cleveland.
According to the Ohio Innocence Project, a 14-year-old witness told police she saw the gunman get out of a black SUV and shoot Hudson on the evening of February 10, 1995. Based on the description, investigators focused on a vehicle 16-year-old Glover and 17-year-olds Johnson and Wheatt were in nearby the shooting.
“We were on the street when it happened. When the shots rang out, I sped off. It was a big thing because we didn’t report it,” Glover said.
After they were interrogated, a trace evidence analyst determined samples taken from Johnson and Wheatt’s clothing had results consistent with gunshot residue. In January 1996, all three men were convicted of murder. Glover was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison, while Johnson and Wheatt each received 18 years to life sentences.
Eight years later, the prosecution’s key witness recanted her testimony. In 2009, the Ohio Innocence Project helped debunk the gunshot residue evidence with advances in science. But it wasn’t until 2014 when attorneys for the organization obtained reports never disclosed with the defense, that the case broke through.
On March 26, 2015, a judge granted a motion to vacate the convictions. Glover, Johnson and Wheatt were released on bond later that day. In 2016, the prosecution dropped the charges completely. In 2018, a jury awarded each man $5 million in damages from East Cleveland.
“It was definitely a long road,” Glover said.
He explained being incarcerated from age 17 made it difficult to find work after his release.
“I always wanted to be my own boss because when I got out it was so hard to get a job,” he said. “A lot of jobs wanted me to have some sort of experience, but I never had a job before I went to prison.”
Glover is now realizing that dream seven years after his release. He marked the occasion with a party at the new restaurant on East 185th Street. Both Johnson and Wheatt planned to attend.
“Great music, good food and good vibes,” he said of Truth Seafood 7. “I’m extremely blessed. I’m blessed to even be here because a little over seven years ago, I was in there fighting to get my freedom back.”