The Connection Between Exoneree and Law Student…

Raymond Towler as wedding officiant…

Having the opportunity to work on innocence cases in law school is often a life-changing experience for many law students.  Ohio Innocence Project student Hilly McGahan and her boyfriend Jacob Baynham got the opportunity to know exoneree Raymond Towler during Hilly’s tenure with OIP, resulting in Jacob, a writer, publishing an extensive piece about Towler’s wrongful conviction in Cincinnati Magazine and Reader’s Digest.

This month, Towler performed the wedding ceremony for Hilly and Jacob in Montana.  Here is what Jacob wrote for Cincinnati Magazine about that experience:

The day after my wife and I got engaged, we started thinking out loud about what our wedding might look like. Cheap and simple, we agreed. Low-stress. The venue would be the backyard gardens of Hilly’s childhood home in Western Montana, the home in which she was born. The guest list would be long—Hilly comes from a big family in a small town—and we thought about making it a potluck. There should be ample beer and food, we thought: 65 percent party, 35 percent wedding.

Then Hilly turned to me and said, “I know who I want to marry us. Ray.”

She had met Raymond Towler through her work with the Ohio Innocence Project and the University of Cincinnati College of Law. She joined OIP just after Towler was released from prison, having served almost 29 years for a crime he didn’t commit. Towler came down from Cleveland to speak to the students working with OIP, and Hilly came home inspired. Hearing her retell it, I was too. I pitched the story to Cincinnati Magazineand started writing a feature article. The story let me spend time with Towler. We sat and talked at Coffee Emporium. We walked around downtown. And we saw live jazz at the Blue Wisp. It struck me that despite the injustice that had digested the better part of his adult life, Towler had no bitterness inside him. After almost three decades behind bars, he walked out one of the most enlightened men I’ve ever met.

It was a beautiful idea. Towler was someone who had come into our lives while we were together. His story tied together Hilly’s legal aspirations and the reason I became a journalist. But more important, he represented to us the power of the human spirit to overcome great suffering with the words Towler now uses to close his e-mails: peace and love.

We put the question to Towler via e-mail when we returned to Cincinnati. “WOW,” he replied. “This is truly a first in my life. And such a great honor.” He didn’t say yes immediately, though. He asked for time to think. A month later he wrote again. “Yes I will do it for you,” he said. “There was not a single reason I could think of to say no. I could not use my nerves as a legit reason.”

So months later, on Sept. 1, Towler and his girlfriend, Brenda, were with us, in those backyard gardens in Western Montana, surrounded by our friends and family. Towler stood on a platform looking wise in his glasses and short, whitening beard. I walked up the aisle to join him, and several minutes later, so did Hilly. I don’t know if the ceremony was short or long—it’s a blur to me now—but by the end of it, Hilly and I realized our math had been wrong. Our wedding was 65 percent ceremony, and 35 percent party. Because it was the ceremony, with the immeasurable hope, grace, and love that Towler brought to it, that made that day the best in our lives.—Jacob Baynham  

3 responses to “The Connection Between Exoneree and Law Student…

  1. Wow. What a beautiful story about three classy people.

  2. Ray Towler is one of the most honest, caring, and well grounded people you will ever meet. He is truly an inspiration to us all. I’m honored to know him.

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