South Euclid Judge Gayle Byers brings the Cooler Bandits to Cleveland

James W. Wade III | 6/4/2014, 9:57 a.m.
The true story, though, is how these young men were treated so unequally under the law with sentences ranging up ...
Richard Roderick, Donovan Harris and Charlie are three of the four Cooler Bandits from 1991 restaurant robberies at Notre Dame College talking to youth about their lives.

Three of ‘The Cooler Bandits,’ four young men who committed a serious of fast-food robberies in Akron and locked their victims in coolers, were in Cleveland Saturday to tell their story. All of the men went to prison with some strong sentences. One remains incarcerated.

The film was shown at Notre Dame College through the vision of Judge Gail Williams Byers and South Euclid City Council. After the screening took place, I was asked to moderate the panel discussion.

The panel consisted of the filmmaker John Lucas and the Akron men who went into jail as teenagers Donovan Harris, Richard “Poochie” Roderick and Charlie Kelly. Harris, Roderick, and Kelly went into prison at 18 and 19 years old.

Not only in the movie but, during the discussion, Kelly said “We going to jail, this is not right.” But being caught up in the fast money made him want and need more.

The true story, though, is how these young men were treated so unequally under the law with sentences ranging up to 500 years for crimes during which no one was physically injured. On the low side, Harris was the only one able to hire a lawyer and ironically received the shortest sentence 16 to 50 years when he rejected his attorney’s advice to go to trial and accepted a plea bargain.

Harris, being out for over 10 years, have tried to do all he can to provide for his two children and realized how different it was from when he first came out to now. Kelly, who is known for being a good sports star, now cuts hair and will continue to try to give back to the youth every day. Roderick graduated from college and is now planning on getting a Ph.D while raising his young daughter. At the back of the room sat Porter’s family and petitions were circulated to sign for his release.

The problem with the stiff sentences the three men got is no comparison to the fourth one Frankie Porter who is looking at 200 to 500 years. Porter was being a smart butt to the judge and got a harsh sentence. Then while in prison, he tried to be part of a bank robbery that got him another 10 to 12 years.

Porter has since learned of his wrongful ways and realized the pain he has caused his mother and family and has been doing extra good. So why can’t they parole him from the Cooler Bandit crimes and send him to Federal Prison to start his 10 to 12 years. Hopefully, his family would get to see him in their lifetime on the streets again.

Since Gov. Kasich denied his release last year, stating not enough time served, an online petition drive has been launched on Change.org requesting clemency, which is probably Porter’s only shot at freedom anytime soon.

“Gov. Kasich must not know people who have killed a list of people have done less time than Porter,” said Rachael Cross, who saw the film Saturday. Many claps came when hearing enough is enough and he should be set free.

In the movie while Lucas got Porter to talk, he shared, “Future... what future? My future got took away when I was sentenced. I don’t see how you can take the life of a person who didn’t take a life. But they do it.”

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Time for Frankie to be set free

Visit his website and sign the petition click here