The Ohio Justice & Policy Center is overjoyed that Gov. John Kasich has granted Thomia Hunter’s request for clemency.
Mia was sentenced to life in prison in 2005 after being convicted of murder in the death of her abusive ex-boyfriend.
On the night he died, after a day of heavy drinking, Andrew Harris sexually and verbally assaulted Mia. When the abuse became physical, Mia told Andrew “No,” and told him to leave her home. Instead, he cut her. When she tried to escape, he strangled her until she passed out. Before she passed out, she was able to grab a knife and stabbed him with it. When she awoke, Andrew continued beating her, and poured hot sauce in her eyes. Mia swung the knife at Andrew to keep him away, causing 22 wounds over his body. One cut sliced Andrew’s femoral artery behind his knee causing him bleed to death.
Before this incident, Mia had never been in trouble with the law and was a commissioned peace officer. During her trial, she was demonized, said to have “stabbed” her abuser repeatedly. Neither Andrew’s history of violence against Mia nor the effects of Battered Woman’s Syndrome were revealed in the courtroom.
As part of Ohio Justice & Policy Center’s Incarcerated Survivors of Domestic Violence project, attorney Tiffanny Smith began representing Mia in 2017. Tirelessly, she — along with dedicated interns, volunteers and peers — went through the lengthy process applying for clemency in the pursuit of freedom for Thomia.
“Mia is the most dedicated, loving and kind person,” Tiffanny said. “She will always feel horrible about what happened and feels horrible about the pain that the Harris family has endured.”
While in prison, Mia obtained her GED. She is currently taking college courses and has a 4.0 GPA. She is a trained tutor, sign language trainer, she completed an optician apprenticeship, and she serves as a mentor to other women in the prison.
In June 2018, the Ohio Parole Board unanimously recommended Hunter’s release from prison. The Board agreed that Mia should have been able to present Battered Woman’s Syndrome to support her claim of self-defense, especially because of the history of her ex-boyfriend’s violence, the abuse she suffered that night, and the fact that the attack happened in her own home.
This week, Gov. John Kasich sent notice to Mia, her daughter, and Tiffanny, to say that Hunter’s request for clemency was granted.
“Mia should have never been incarcerated in the first place,” Tiffanny said. “She killed her ex-boyfriend because he was going to kill her if she didn’t stop him. It was truly a ‘kill or be killed’ situation.”
From prison, Mia provided this statement:
“I would first like to offer my deepest regards to the Harris family. Eventually I hope that they can find it in their hearts to forgive me!!! I am humbled and over-appreciative for all that Governor Kasich has done for me!!! I am truly grateful for a second chance. TODAY IS A HUGE STEP IN COMBATING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE!”
Tiffanny joined OJPC in 2016 specifically to develop the incarcerated women project. Tiffanny is part of a collaboration of attorneys and domestic violence advocates throughout the state. Together, they have been representing women who are incarcerated for killing their abusers. This phenomenon is pervasive in Ohio and across the country: According to the Vera Institute of Justice, 86 percent of women in prison have experienced sexual violence, 77 percent experienced partner violence, and 60 percent experienced caregiver violence.
In November 2017, clemency applications were filed for 13 women in Ohio, including Mia Hunter, who were imprisoned for killing their abusers.
“We’re talking about women who have been victimized and abused by their significant others, most of whom suffered abuse in their childhood,” Tiffanny said. “Then, they suffered the abuse of the criminal justice system, leaving them to be re-traumatized every day in prison.”
When Gov. Kasich commuted Mia’s sentence, he said she should be released from prison on or after July 15, once she completes the prison’s reintegration program.
When she returns home, Mia said she plans to spend time with her daughter, meet new family members who were born while she was incarcerated, continue her college career at Ashland University, volunteer to help other survivors of domestic violence, and “take a long bubble bath.”