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Man is freed after 4{ years on death row in Alabama

Published Mar. 3, 1993|Updated Oct. 9, 2005

A man condemned to death more than four years ago walked out of his prison cell for the last time Tuesday: to freedom, not the electric chair. Prosecutors conceded he was wrongly convicted.

"God knows I'm innocent," Walter D. McMillian said.

He said he believed that a report by CBS' 60 Minutes on the case had prompted his release.

Tuesday, Baldwin County Circuit Court Judge Pam Baschab dismissed all charges against McMillian in the Nov. 1, 1986, murder of an 18-year-old dry-cleaning clerk.

Three key witnesses had lied about McMillian's presence during a robbery at the Monroeville dry cleaner in which Ronda Morrison was shot to death, Monroe County District Attorney Tommy Chapman told the judge.

McMillian has said he was home at the time of the murder, and his family has supported his alibi.

Ralph Bernard Myers, who was accused in the robbery, avoided the death penalty by testifying against McMillian in the 1988 trial. Two other men split $7,000 in reward money for identifying McMillian as the killer.

But Myers, the key prosecution witness, later recanted his story that he had seen McMillian at the murder scene. Myers now is serving a 30-year sentence for the robbery, but he says he didn't kill Morrison.

Chapman said prosecuting Myers and the other two witnesses who lied could be difficult because the three-year limit on bringing perjury charges has expired.

McMillian, 52, who is black, thinks racial prejudice led to his arrest in 1987 in the murder of the white woman.

The small farming town of Monroeville is widely known as the setting for To Kill a Mockingbird, the story of a white attorney who defends a black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman.

But Chapman, who didn't handle the prosecution, denied McMillian was singled out because he's black.

At any rate, defense attorney Bryan Stevenson said McMillian is due an apology from the state. He had been jailed since 1987 and was sentenced to death on Sept. 19, 1988.

"The state of Alabama has taken six years from Mr. McMillian .

.

. called him the worst kind of human being and that his life has no value, no purpose," Stevenson said.

At Tuesday's 10-minute hearing, McMillian got no apology.

Stevenson wouldn't say whether McMillian would seek damages.

McMillian said he's already "forgiven the people that lied on me and put me in jail."

But his wife, Minnie Belle McMillian, 50, said: "Nothing, nothing can be done to return those six years. Six years is a long time."

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