BARTOW, Fla. - James Bain used a cell phone for the first time yesterday calling his elderly mother to tell her he had been freed after 35 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.
Mobile devices didn't exist in 1974, the year he was sentenced to life in prison for kidnapping a 9-year-old boy and raping him in a nearby field.
Neither did the sophisticated DNA testing that officials more recently used to determine he could not have been the rapist.
"Nothing can replace the years Jamie has lost," said Seth Miller, a lawyer for the Florida Innocence Project, which helped Bain win freedom. "Today is a day of renewal."
Bain, 54, spent more time in prison than any of the 246 inmates previously exonerated by DNA evidence nationwide, according to the project. The longest-serving before him was James Lee Woodard of Dallas, who was released last year after spending more than 27 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.
As Bain walked out of the Polk County courthouse yesterday, wearing a black T-shirt that said "not guilty," he spoke of his deep faith and said he does not harbor any anger. "No, I'm not angry," he said, "because I've got God."
Friends and family surrounded him as he left the courthouse after Judge James Yancey ordered him freed. His 77-year-old mother, who is in poor health, preferred to wait for him at home. With a broad smile, he said he was eager to spend time with her and the rest of his family. "That's the most important thing in my life right now, besides God," he said.
Attorneys from the Innocence Project of Florida got involved in Bain's case earlier this year after he had filed several previous petitions asking for DNA testing, all of which were thrown out.
A judge finally ordered the tests, and the results from a respected private lab in Cincinnati came in last week, setting the wheels in motion for yesterday's hearing. The Innocence Project had called for Bain's release by Christmas.
He was convicted largely on the strength of the victim's eyewitness identification, though testing available at the time did not definitively link him to the crime. The boy said his attacker had bushy sideburns and a mustache. The boy's uncle, a former assistant principal at a high school, said it sounded like Bain.
The boy picked Bain out of a photo lineup, although there are lingering questions about whether detectives steered him. The jury rejected Bain's story that he was home watching TV with his twin sister when the crime was committed - an alibi she repeated at a news conference last week. He was 19 when he was sentenced.
Ed Threadgill, who prosecuted the case originally, said that he didn't recall all the specifics but that the conviction seemed right at the time. "I wish we had had that evidence back when we were prosecuting cases," said Threadgill, 77. "I'm ecstatic the man has been released."