Best friends, Kordell Hubbert and Ruell Sayler were small time dealers on the east side of Cleveland. On November 16th, 2002, Cordel sister Nicole was out partying with some friends. She fronted the group 20 bucks for drugs, but felt taken advantage of when she only got ten dollars back from the Group of five. When she spoke up, a gun was pulled on her, so she called Cordele while celebrating a birthday at a bar with a large group, including Will Sizemore.
Andrew. Well, Kordell answered the call from Nicole and took Sizemore along to confront the two men who had done her wrong. Omar Clark and Clark Lamar Williams. They pulled up on these men on a darkened street, and Sizemore initially got out of the passenger side and confronted them about his sister, leaving witnesses to believe that the passenger was Cordele. Cordele got out of the driver's side, Omak. Clark pulled a gun and Kordell shot him in self-defense while the other man, Williams, got caught with a bullet in his buttocks as he ran away.
Ruell was clearly not involved with his tight friendship with Cordele, and his days in the streets would come back to haunt him. A corrupt Feis detective who had once vowed to get Ruell would use this opportunity, claiming an informant had told him that Ruell was the other man with Cordele was threatening and coercing, rouble's alibi witnesses into silence. Even with Cordele taking full responsibility and naming Will Sizemore as the other man before sentencing, Ruell still spent 15 years behind bars.
This is wrongful conviction with Jason Flom. Welcome back to Wrongful Conviction with Jason Flom, that's me. I'm your host, and today, if I was going to a title this episode, I would call it a web of lies, because this case was built on so many different layers of lies, so many different people had to tell in order to convict an innocent man named Ruell Saler of murder and other charges. So we'll get right into it. First of all, I want to introduce the woman who was responsible for Ruell winning his freedom a couple of years ago, Jennifer Passioned Bergeron, who is the deputy director of the Ohio Innocence Project.
So, Jennifer, welcome to wrongful conviction. Thank you. It's good to be here. I would be remiss if I didn't give a shout out to tickin Peralta because she was a private attorney that worked with me on this case. Thank you for doing that. And without further ado, Ruell Saylor, welcome to wrongful conviction. Thank you for having me. And let's start in the beginning. So did you grow up in Cleveland?
Yes, on the Cycler area and East Cleveland. My mother, for as I remember, she always was a nurse, so she worked two or three shifts a day. My father was he was there and he wasn't there. He was in the streets. But I had sort of override that veto to help out my siblings. I have a younger brother and sister. So once my dad wasn't there, it was just us. As a teenager, I took more into the streets than school because I thought I had to help my mom with my siblings.
So I began to like sell drugs at a young age and then drop out of high school like temporary.
Tell us about Cordell Hubbard, because he really is a central figure in this really crazy crime. Black History of Cordiale. Hubbard Hubbard met in third grade and for some reason we ended up in the same class every great throughout our whole entire school year of high school. So we was always best friends. And Jennifer, this started from a drug deal gone bad. Right. But a very minor drug deal at that. And this goes back to the night of November 16th of two thousand two.
One of the people that we'll be talking about is Clark Lamar Williams. And we'll just refer to them as Williams just to try to make it simpler. My understanding is Nicole Hubbard was with Omar Clark and Williams and a couple of her friends that night. They were driving Omar Clark and Williams to buy cigarettes, one cigarette with PCP, and I guess it was 20 bucks and Nicole fronted the twenty bucks. So when they stopped, I think it was Omar Clark that went in to get the money to pay her back, but didn't come back for 20 bucks, came back with only ten bucks, apparently because everyone had taken turns smoking.
So I guess he figured she only needed to pay half of it. I don't know. But in any case, this did not go over well with Nicole Hubbard. And my understanding is Omar pulled a gun on her and that's when she called her brother and things escalated from there.
Radio Hubbert, we just happened to be out celebrating one of our friend's birthdays. We sort of bought a cordial had received a phone call from his sister Nicole about him. William Sizemore left the Bhairavi. Was it? And went to go confront these guys about a system to go see a bar will be because he thought she was still there and when he got there, she was go to my understanding, from what I was told, Omar Omnicorp would have gone to her twice.
And we're still hovers over the fence of our Clark was shot 11 times and Mr. Williams was running away from the scene and was shot. He was lucky to be shot in the butt and therefore not badly hurt. And the two men drove off afterwards.
So the witnesses that was on the scene had confused the driver and a passenger. William Sizemore was the passenger where Neil Herbert was the driver. And William Sizemore got out and confronted the individuals saying with all due to my sister. So the witnesses on the street automatically assumed that the brother was the passenger. And that's where the confusion came in. So they always had put cordiale on the passenger side and they didn't know who the driver was. So they arrested Caudill for this crime.
They would charge him as an accomplice because the driver was the shooter and they didn't have the second person. And going back to my history in the streets, there was a vice cop from my neighborhood that particularly didn't get along with me personally. And he planted drugs on me once before. And I didn't go to prison. And he thought that I said went to prison. He told me that he would get me one day. So when your name came up in this crime, they automatically just assumed I was with Caudill because we've always been together for so many years and everyone knew that we was best friends.
So this cop told the homicide detective that he had a confidential informant, which is never name never brought up during our trial, just his word. He had a good informant, told him that I was the driver, that I was the shooter, and I was arrested based upon that.
And then we fast forward, of course, to March twenty six. Twenty three when the grand jury indicted you ruell, right. On charges of murder, kidnapping and assault. But I mean, the alibi is pretty strong in this case, right? I mean, he was miles and miles away across town with lots of other people, right?
Yes. We have several affidavits from different people later on who could have potentially testified at the trial. But they also said in their affidavits that they were threatened by the police if they did show up to testify. Now, the case went to trial in May of twenty three and all three of you were tried together. First of all, it seems like a very quick turnaround. And I can't leave out the fact that when I see the words Cuyahoga County, I immediately get the chills because we keep hearing about cases from Cuyahoga County wrongful conviction, one after the other.
I was indicted more. Twenty six. I was arrested April 2nd for Dale Hubbert was already indicted and was out on bond and his court date prior to me being arrested, the state and had any witnesses to come to court. So the judge, Nancy McDonald, told radio and his lawyers and the prosecutors that she was going to reschedule next court date for May 19th. To my understanding, that they didn't come May 19th with witnesses that the case could be thrown out.
In the midst of that, I was arrested. They added cordiale in the code to my new indictment. But they say in court date, May 19th was the original court date, the storied trial. Our lawyers, our civil trial, they denied us a separate trial. And I had to literally prepare for a murder trial from April 2nd to May 19th.
Jennifer, this all sounds pretty irregular, even amongst the crazy shit we hear week to week on this podcast. Well, I can't imagine as an attorney trying to get ready for a murder case in basically a month. So, I mean, that set the whole stage for things to just go downhill because there just wasn't time to do the type of investigation that would have been necessary to mount a proper defense.
But somehow I have put my witness list together. The detective put my case before I can even make calls to these witnesses. He had already got to the border. That was it. He got to the owner and he told her that if she came to court, to my defense, he would he would get her bar rated like rated for drugs and sit down like Drosnin, her boyfriend. He's known for this throughout our neighborhood. So she didn't want to jeopardize our business, which I understand, and my other witnesses, neighbors in the street life as well.
And he went to them and threatened them. We planted drugs on them and get those guys cases so they didn't come to court. So when it came time for the trial, I didn't have any other witnesses that was on my list to come to court because the detective had when they spoke to all the right not to come to court. So you didn't have a shot in hell.
What it really comes down to it. And I don't think the best lawyer in the world could have helped you out of that situation with what they were willing to do, they were willing to go to. So the trial, did you think after having seen. All the worst of what our quote unquote, justice system has to offer. Did you think that you still had a chance to be acquitted? I was skeptical because my jury wasn't of my peers.
Majority of my jurors were older white people from suburban areas. And so the biggest thing in this case was identification. There was no physical evidence, no scientific evidence, no bullet casings. None of the witnesses in this case described the two individuals as two light skinned males that looked like brothers, real herbers, the same skin complexion as Steph Curry. And you will be it's the same complexion is maybe LeBron James or Dwayne Wade maybe. And I'm sitting there and I'm like, these human beings in this jury box has to understand that the equity, however, could never look like, oh, no, see, no setting whatsoever.
Two different shades of color completely. But when you get a jury that's not from my culture, my background, they just see two African-Americans. So it was a different I didn't I didn't know that. But I know now everybody knows about light skinned, dark skinned, and that's just common sense. I wasn't aware that there are people that live in this world that don't know that.
So the jury comes back in. What was that moment or those moments like for you?
It was a moment of clarity, because before you go through those things, you feel like nobody goes to jail that didn't do anything unless you know somebody that's actually innocent. So I'm sitting there and I'm like, they just found guilty of something I didn't even see. I wasn't even nowhere near to see the crime had it been nowhere near that side of town or anything. But the make it even worse that I'm being convicted of a crime, that the man standing next to me actually committed.
And here I am being found guilty of a crime. I never.
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It means Mr. Williams sighs and was with him and that I was nowhere near that, that he played on my innocence to get free. And now he told the truth. So when we get ready to go to Cincinnati, the plan is, he said his attorney, that we will go to S.C. There were news cameras in there and media in there. So he was saying, like, I'm going to speak the truth in front of the cameras and blow this whole thing up.
So I don't know if his lawyer played both sides or will we go to since it and our judge kicked the media out of the courtroom before court stores, radio still confesses to the crime. And she still convicts me right there on the spot, sentenced to 28 years to life.
He's actually solving the case for them. Right? He's identified, which took some courage. I mean, it was too it was too late, as it turns out, but it did take some courage. Hubbard signed a sworn statement claiming that Ruell was not with him at the crime scene, and he said it was quote unquote, it was a guy named Will, and he meant by that, Will Sizemore. And it goes on to say, I didn't think it was going to turn out like this.
I didn't think my best friend would get convicted as a shooter. But he wasn't even there.
So I had to file a neutral motion based on cordials affidavit to describe. We sent subpoenas to William Sizemore. So we have this retrial here where we present order to the ports court takes the stand at retrial here, Mr. Rico, or more. Clark describes the whole night in detail, how it happened, how he left, everything that happens before Quirinale can make it back to his seat. He did not ask me a new trial DHP. Jennifer, help us out here.
What what was going on here that they were so actively disinterested in knowing what really happened?
I don't have an answer for that. I don't know how you could hear that testimony and not try to fix this wrong.
So I mean, years go by and we're all the way to twenty thirteen. When you filed another petition asking for a new trial based on another sworn affidavit. Right. Right. Do you want to walk us through that?
You are Clark, the victim's brother, Omar Clark's brother. He was heavily involved in the whole entire investigation and that's how a lot of things worked out on the cordiale in the Cold Harbor side, because you more Clark, would go talk to the witnesses. He would go talk to Williams. He would go relay everything he found out in the streets to the police. And that's how they thought to cooperate even was. Fast forward you more. Clark is in prison.
I write him a letter and he writes me back. He tells me that days after the trial, he knew the truth. William Sizemore had came forward to him and told him that he was recording the night of the shooting that killed his brother. He's a lawyer at me as an investigator, FBI affidavit. So I figured this is the mother lode right here. So I'll get the affidavit from your new trial motion against this newly discovered evidence, the same judge, Nancy MacDonald.
I feel like it would be a more objective process if it was a different judge. But to deny that petition without a hearing to petition dismissal was upheld on appeal in twenty fourteen. And then how did you end up contacting the Ohio Innocence Project? I had wrote to the Ohio Innocence Project. They never denied my case. They just at the time that I wrote them, they responded saying they had a heavy caseload. So I understood I'm going to keep fighting to keep the evidence as I go.
So if they do come along, I'll have a look and miss it. I had retained attorney, amazing attorney, Kimberly Kural, my wife, Amy Saler, my family. It was all here and it was beat down doors, having rallies. And they had counseling from the same magazine article on me. And I had like a two page spread in the Ohio Innocence Project. And they had contacted me. They had seen the traction I had with my case.
It was going I looked into it is Jennifer and still Andrew and Ruby. They came to see me. I was in Ohio State Penitentiary and went over my case. And I just I just knew right then and there, like I was about to go home. So, Jennifer, how did you crack this case? There was really nothing to crack. I mean, by the time we got the case, we knew exactly what had happened because everybody had already explained that Cordele admitted he was the shooter.
We knew William Sizemore had admitted he was the second person there. And so there really wasn't anything to solve. We knew from the get go that well, wasn't there, and had nothing to do with it. The challenge was to convince the prosecutor in the court to let him out of prison since he was innocent. And that's what took a long time. So in the spring of twenty sixteen, I think his other attorney, Kim, we started working cooperatively together to try to figure out a plan to get out.
And then we were kind of working with additional investigation to try to find anything else we could. And that's where we got additional affidavits from some of the alibi witnesses and from Nicole Hubbard. And because he'd already filed, as we were talking about before, this new trial, motions that had been denied, it looks like the best path for him was to try the conviction integrity unit that had opened in Cuyahoga County my whole time in prison.
Every attorney, every investigator, everybody always told me, like if William Sizemore was to ever come forward and tell the truth, that she'll go to keep you walking out of the prison. So I'm in Lucasville, a beautiful quote, a Kember's crime as well. Why was she crying? She's like William Sizemore just went to the prosecutor's office and told the truth. So in my mind, they bought the murderer the next five minutes and about to walk out of here.
It didn't happen like that. I still sat in prison for like almost eight, nine months after William Sizemore came forward and told the truth in the prosecutors from the CIA to Russell him. Kim came to see me and he was like, well, we got to do some more investigating. And at this point, William Sizemore has admitted that he was reportedly Huebert and that real Hubbard shot Omak. Clark in self defense, said Omert had to go to Williams head, came forward and recanted, said he never saw me a did his life and that they made him say that I was the shooter.
My witnesses, Bobby Nettle's entity, because they've came forward and told the truth that they were threatened. Correal has admitted. So I have all of this evidence mounted with me saying I'm innocent. And the prosecutor told me that he had to go through more investigation. It was going to leave me in prison. So I had to ask, well, where's William Sizemore? And he told me William Sizemore was at home because he didn't see him as a suspect.
The system is not built right at all. Was there a worst moment in that 15 years in that very, very dark place where you almost gave up or where just a moment of absolute despair and and at the same time, what was the happiest moment of the happiest moment will be?
They told me I was going home, but just a quick highway from door to like I was in Lucasville. It sounds like the worst prison in Ohio hands, though. And I was I was on a straight path. I'll stay out of trouble and I'll try to get my status dropped so I can go to a lower level prison. And right before I went up to get up, my is dropped will go to prison. I was a porter and a dustpan head came up missing.
Does any other prison or any other times is a minor, a minor thing? They don't make a big deal about that. But this particular time they made the biggest deal about this dust pan and they tried to give me like AOC, which is like 60 days in the whole segregation. And they try to take my my that is being lured away from me and all these things and my phone privileges and my visit privileges. It was like it just came out of nowhere and it was like I didn't even do it then.
It was like, this is story of my life. And so they put me in the hole and they wouldn't trying to hear me out. They weren't trying to watch the camera to see they have these high tech cameras that just keep saying, watch the camera. Is this some simple watch the camera. You will see. I didn't touch it. This man, they refused to watch the camera. So it was like, this is a set or something.
And I got to the hole. I just went on a hunger strike because I had to fight for my my way without being violent or being rude or anything like that. So I just refused to eat. They refused to eat. Being the person I was in prison, I was a little bit out of respect. A lot of other guys follow suit and they refused trays on the counter what they was doing to me because everybody knew they never did it.
So how does being so long story short, I want to do like seven, eight. I think like ten days on hunger strike is solitary confinement not a soul around me. I'm by myself and it's like I'm just feeling like this. Feeling like I'm about to die in the CIA. I'm not feeling good. And they come give me. So I had a little phone call and I got the phone. It was Jennifer Kim and the Channel five News from our city, Jopek and Nagas all on three.
Wait on the phone with me. And I'm I was going I was going to and they would like to see you coming home.
You'd be out a couple of days. It went from like the worst time in prison to the best time in prison or one cycle from the literal depths of despair, starving alone in solitary confinement for another crime you didn't commit.
And they finally decided to watch the camera, another portrait through the dust in the trash by mistake.
Ultimately, you obviously were freed, and when I say freed, I chose that word carefully because even after all of this, they still weren't done messing with you. Because, you know, what I'm referring to is in March two thousand and eighteen, the prosecutor, Andrew Wells team filed a joint motion vacating conviction, all the convictions and dismissing all the charges. But there was another little dirty trick, which is that the prosecution had a caveat. And they said to you that you had to plead guilty to perjury and obstruction of justice, saying that you had falsely testified at trial that Kordell was not involved in the shooting.
And in exchange for this, they were willing to sentence you to 10 years, which obviously you had already served a lot longer than that, and you could go home.
I never did disclose that cordiale and William Sizemore up the bar in our state. I never really thought we were together or that night, which I find finally he left the Bortz after the fact. And so they told me that I lied on the stand. A committee, perjury, perjury and obstruction of justice may be five years maximum each one of ten years. And at this point they hold in front of you like you can go home right now. You agree to this, you can go home.
You don't agree. There's no telling how long it might take us to get you a new trial started. It might take a year. It might take two years. Who knows? But you can go home right now. You say you take these ten years time served. So I agree to it, even though I know it wasn't right. I agree to it because I want to go home. I'm going to go home. After being in jail 15 years with crime, we did commit.
It's an unreal story.
And of course, now fast forward to March of twenty twenty. You filed the federal civil rights lawsuit against the Cleveland Police Department and non officers seeking damages for their wrongful conviction. And your team also filed a separate complaint in the Cuyahoga court. I'm pleased to have you declared wrongfully imprisoned and therefore eligible for state compensation or actually innocent however you want to look at it. So we don't need to get into that now. But I just want to say that all of us in the family, the wrongful conviction family and innocence community are all rooting for you.
I can't let this platform go without share where I'm at currently since being released, I'm married, my wife or my one year anniversary, March 20th. As recently as I had a daughter, Mihiel Sailor, she was born on the 12th of October. I started a business when I came home from prison, I still a clothing line for comics. The clothing to come with me is continuation the montreaux. My story is not over. No one story is ever over.
Long as you get up and continue to fight which one in life your story is never over. I'm done speaking engagements. I go to high schools, colleges tell my story and you can find me on Instagram account. Underscore the underscore called thank you. That's karma.
Underscore club, underscore clothing. Follow Ruell. The clothes are great. Have seen them and it comfortable too. So I'm giving up. I'm giving my plug. So now this is the part of the podcast which is my favorite part. I always say that because this is the part where I get to. First of all, I think both of you for coming and taking your time and sharing your story and just for being freedom fighters that you are. And so, Jennifer Passioned Bergrin, thank you again for being on the show today.
It's been my pleasure. Thank you. And, well, you know, once again, you're a hero to to me and so many others. And I'm just so thrilled that we got to talk today and we're going to be friends for a long time. So thanks again for sharing your your strength and your spirit with the audience. Oh, thank you for having me. One hundred percent. So now what happens is I turn my microphone off, kick back, close my eyes and just listen to closing arguments.
Jennifer, you first, please, and then you can just hand it off to grow up.
I just want to say thank you to everyone for listening and being interested in these issues because they are pervasive throughout the country and they need to be heard the stories in the honoris and just the awareness in general. And if you get the chance to work on a jury, please do so and just be skeptical and look for the truth.
Jennifer, I love what you've done, and I can't leave this podcast without giving my wife, Amy Saler, her roses as well as Tempora and Tom. Favish, as you in Ruby work at the OPI, I wouldn't see her having this conversation to work for these people because they fought with me on the outside. I can grill was my attorney.
She did ten times more than what I paid her for Lee, that she's been friend from the. Thrown out the opposite from a family, they don't just get you out of prison, but they stick with you the whole time while you're out. I just want to give them their flowers. Now I get a joy to share my story. It's about the awareness of what's going on in our world, our country, for our legal system and our courts, police officers, things of that nature.
Jury handled yourselves because I was once that person that didn't believe these things happened. So where we share stories like mine and others, we wake up more people to know that these things actually happen. If you know someone in prison, please contact them, please become engaged in their cases. Just just be there. For those guys that in prison, there are a lot more guys in prison that are innocent. I say it over and over again. There are so many more.
I'm just I'm just one of many to have to make it all. But so many more endorse or encourage people to be on the jury. This is the attitude of studies, cases that were on the jury and just help people, as you know, as our incarcerated, write them, send them a letter or anything like that, because it means a lot means a lot more than you may think. Thank you for listening to wrongful conviction with Jason Flom, please support your local innocence projects and go to the link in our bio to see how you can help.
I'd like to thank our production team, Connor Hall, Jeff Kleiber and Kevin Ortiz. The music on the show, as always, is by three time Oscar nominated composer J. Ralph. Be sure to follow us on Instagram at wrongful conviction and on Facebook at Wrongful Conviction podcast. Wrongful Conviction with Jason Flom is a production of Vltava for good podcasts in association with Signal Company No. One.