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Wrongly imprisoned Lake Wales man makes up for lost time

TAMPA

James Bain thought he would die in prison for a rape he didn't commit.

But in June, he knelt down in front of Mallelin Durán, the love of his life, and asked her to marry him.

She said "yes."

Bain, 55, is fitting a lifetime into one summer.

Though he was released from prison 19 months ago — cleared by DNA evidence after wrongfully serving 35 years for rape — it took time to get the $1.7 million in compensation that Florida owed him.

The first check came two months ago.

He bought a 2011 silver Ford Explorer to replace his bicycle.

He purchased a 2,477-square-foot house in New Tampa to replace his bed at his mother's home.

Then he bought a diamond ring for Durán, 36.

They're trying to have a baby, he said. He hopes for a boy.

On Thursday, the couple posed for engagement photos at the Event Factory in Town 'N Country, where they will marry Sept. 10. She wore a shimmering dress, blue like the evening sky. He struggled with his necktie. They don't teach you that in prison, he said.

On March 4, 1974, police questioned 18-year-old Bain in the rape of a Lake Wales boy. The 9-year-old boy had given a description that fit Bain, and the child picked Bain's photo out of a group of five.

Five months later, a jury convicted Bain even though his parents said he had been home that night. Back then, there wasn't DNA testing, and Bain was sentenced to life.

In 2001, Bain started requesting a DNA test on the evidence, but each attempt was denied until July 2009. It cleared him, and he walked out of prison a free man on Dec. 17, 2009.

Life was strange for months. He didn't understand cell phones or computers. He wasn't comfortable walking far from home or going anywhere at night.

He didn't know how to relax.

"In prison, you're always tense," he said.

Now he enjoys the beach and sunsets and taking his fiancee to Red Lobster for dinner.

And he loves Durán's 4-year-old daughter like she's his own. Though their new home is still sparsely furnished, the girl's bedroom is decked out in all pink — hearts, flowers and Hello Kitty.

The girl calls him Papi. He calls her Boo-Boo. Some of that $1.7 million is for her college fund. "That's one of my main priorities," he said.

Bain spends much of his days at home. He hopes to get a job, maybe landscaping or construction, but he likes just being with his new family.

They go swimming in the back yard, play dominoes and cheer for the Dallas Cowboys.

He's happy to have the money, but it doesn't make up for the years he lost.

People keep asking him: Are you bitter?

He says he's thankful.

Thankful for the DNA testing technology. Thankful for his fiancee.

He's become more religious after his release and says he figures everything happens in God's time.

"Not mine," he said.

Thursday afternoon at the Event Factory, the wedding photographer asked Durán to sit on a purple velvet chair. Bain kneeled next to her and leaned his head toward hers.

The photographer paused, and Durán turned to her left and sneaked a soft kiss.

And Bain smiled.

Times staff writer Danny Valentine contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Wrongly imprisoned Lake Wales man makes up for lost time 07/21/11 [Last modified: Thursday, July 21, 2011 11:11pm]
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