Eugene Gilyard was a street-corner drug dealer when he and Lance Felder were sent to prison 15 years ago for killing North Philadelphia businessman Thomas Keal, 52, during a robbery.
Last month, when a judge ruled that both men had been wrongly convicted of murder and ordered that they be placed under house arrest, the 34-year-old Gilyard, by now married to a woman he had never lived with, entered - with restrictions - a world that had left him long behind.
Last Friday, Common Pleas Court Judge Rose Marie DeFino-Nastasi ended their house arrest.
"He was married and he wanted to live with his wife," said Marissa B. Bluestine, legal director of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, which backed the men's appeal. "Now he and his wife's dream has come true."
Bluestine said Gilyard and his wife, Sheri Anderson, were married in a Muslim ceremony several years ago while he was in prison. Anderson was someone he knew from his teen years in his old neighborhood.
After Gilyard and Felder, also 34, were released on bail Nov. 8, Gilyard went to live with his mother, and Felder with his sister. There they remained - their whereabouts electronically monitored with ankle bracelets - except for court hearings, meetings with lawyers, or medical appointments.
In addition to giving the men the freedom to live independently and get to know a city they last saw in the early '90s, the end of house arrest enables the men to get occupational training and look for jobs, Bluestine said. Both are now working with the Impact Services Corp.'s reentry program for ex-offenders, Bluestine said.
They are not completely free: The District Attorney's Office is reinvestigating the case and could decide to retry them.