BARTOW — James Bain's first taste of freedom was sweet: A large glazed doughnut, a bottle of Mello Yello and some spearmint gum.
After spending 35 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit, Bain's attorneys and family members were happy to supply the snacks. It was one of his first requests after the Thursday morning hearing that set him free.
Bain, 54, sat at a blonde wood table at the courthouse after the hearing and talked about what was next.
"I want to see my mom and hug her," he said. Beyond that, he spoke of a high school diploma, and then a job. He carted laundry in prison and also did some welding, so perhaps he might do something like that in the real world, he said.
His sisters and other relatives couldn't stop grabbing his hands and holding him before taking Bain home, where his wheelchair-bound mother was waiting in West Tampa.
The day had already been a whirlwind for the man who was transferred from Okeechobee Correctional Institution to Polk County jail early Thursday. He was told if he was released, it would be conditional. But right before the hearing, he learned he would be completely exonerated.
Beaming, Bain watched the quick proceedings in a Polk County courtroom, where Judge James Yancey told him, "I'm now signing the order, sir. You are a free man. Congratulations."
Then there was applause. Then Bain walked out of the courtroom to a waiting throng of reporters and TV cameras.
Bain shed his button-down plaid shirt for a black T-shirt that read "Not Guilty" before walking outside to address the crowd. Someone handed him a cell phone — the first time he has ever used one, he said.
"I'm going to see my mama," he told the crowd. "I just got off the phone with her."
Family members were emotional after the hearing. A sister wept and could barely talk. A brother-in-law, who was a boyhood friend of Bain's, was excited.
"I haven't seen him since he was 16," Jessie Atmore said. "It's been a long, long time."
Bain's twin sister, Janie, called her mother before the hearing to tell her Bain would be exonerated.
"I'm so happy, don't know what to do," Sarah Reed told her daughter on the phone. "Tell him his room is ready for him."
It had been waiting for a long time.
In 1974 in Lake Wales, a 9-year-old boy was lifted out of his bed while sleeping. He was taken by a man he described as "17 or 18 . . . with bushy sideburns who said his name was Jim" to a nearby baseball diamond where he was raped. When he returned home and described the rapist to his uncle, his uncle commented that it sounded like "Jimmy Bain."
Over the years, Bain, who had no prior criminal record when he was convicted at age 19, has repeatedly requested DNA testing on the victim's underwear to prove he did not commit the rape. This past July, a judge finally granted the motion to have the testing done, and it did not match Bain's DNA.
"The really good thing about this is the State Attorney is joined in a motion saying Bain is actually innocent," said public defender Marion Moorman.
Bain said he has a lot to catch up on, including his education. He's not angry, he said, "because I got God in my hands."
Bain is the 246th person in the United States to get exonerated by DNA evidence. Of the 246 released, he has served the longest time in prison.
Meg Laughlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8068.