When the numbers were squared away, George Carty turned to his wife in the courtroom, put his hands together as if in prayer and said three words he's been longing to utter for years.
"I'm coming home," he whispered before being led back to the Cape May County Jail a few miles away from the courthouse.
In the hallway, Cheryl Carty danced on the tiled floor, simultaneously crying and laughing while hugging strangers. With the help of a bail bondsman, Cheryl hoped to have her husband, jailed without a trial since 2007 in a 28-year-old murder case, home "by supper," she said.
"I think he wants pizza."
Carty's bail was lowered from $250,000 full cash to a bondable $50,000 yesterday after a recent state appellate court ruling affirmed a lower-court decision to throw out statements that the medical-school graduate and former nationally ranked Scrabble player gave to investigators during a long interrogation.
The Cape May County Prosecutor's Office agreed to the bail reduction but is also petitioning the New Jersey Supreme Court. Superior Court Judge Raymond Batten, whose ruling on the statements cleared the way for yesterday's hearing, did not place travel limitations on Carty, who was born and raised in Cape May County but living in West Virginia and Ohio in 2007.
"The court has a strong sense that Mr. Carty will be back whenever we need him," Batten said as he presided over the bail hearing.
The case goes back to July 1982, when John Attenborough, a co-worker of Carty's at the Wildwood Golf and Country Club, was beaten to death in Lower Township.
In June 2007, prosecutor's investigators visited Carty in West Virginia, where he had moved, and conducted a five-hour interrogation at a state police barracks there.
Carty agreed to take a polygraph test and was asked to "visualize" killing Attenborough even though he repeatedly said that he wasn't there.
Dave Stefankiewicz, Carty's attorney, said that the polygraph questions were ambiguous and deliberately confusing. Carty's answers were later thrown out by Batten, a decision that the appellate court affirmed last week.
Carty was charged with murder in December 2007 and just spent his fourth Christmas in jail on Saturday.
Stefankiewicz said that he couldn't recall an inmate being held for so long without trial.