Bain: I'm Not Angry

James Bain
James Bain celebrates his release with his sister outside the Polk County Courthouse.
BARTOW (2009-12-17) -

A Polk County man now holds a dubious record - the longest time anyone has spent in a U.S. jail before being exonerated through DNA evidence.

James Bain was freed Thursday after serving 35 years in prison. But he is expressing no bitterness.

The mood was light, almost festive in Judge James Yancey's courtroom Thursday morning as he joked about not being able to find a pen.

That belied the seriousness of what Judge Yancey was admitting – 35 years ago, that same court made a terrible mistake.

Yancey signed the order exonerating Bain. Minutes later, Bain walked out the Polk County Courthouse a free man.

His family and friends surrounded him quickly and completely, before he could even cross the street.

Wearing a t-shirt from the Florida Innocence Project, Bain addressed a throng of reporters outside.

“I guess I feel like when they landed on the moon. We have touchdown,” he said.

But it almost didn’t happen.

In 1974, a nine-year-old boy was kidnapped and raped in the small Polk County town of Lake Wales.

Right away, police zeroed in on Bain because he fit the description given by the victim.

Soon, police showed up at Bain’s door. He was only 19. He and his twin sister Janie swore they’d been watching T.V., but police didn’t believe them.

“What they told me was that they just wanted to ask him a couple of questions,” she said Thursday. “It wasn’t until later that we found out what was happening.”

A Polk County jury convicted Bain in 1974, but there were questions from the start. The victim later said he wasn’t asked to identify who did this to him – but to identify Jimmy Bain out of a photo line-up.

And Bain’s blood type did not match that found on the boy’s clothing.

But DNA testing didn’t exist in 1974. When it became commonplace, Bain asked the courts repeatedly for one.

They ignored his request – until the Florida Innocence Project got involved.

“I kind of feel neglected, because I didn’t have any outside help until they came to me. All the motions I filed before I met them were denied,” Bain said.

Lawyer Melissa Montle of the Innocence Project believed Bain. She convinced a Polk County Judge to allow a DNA test. On Dec. 9, the results came back, saying Bain’s DNA did not match that of the attacker.

Then, things happened quickly.

Florida Innocence Project Director Seth Miller said he was surprised and elated that Bain was exonerated Thursday. He explained how the Florida Department of Law Enforcement – FDLE – sped things along.

“FDLE finished those test results very quickly, and just before the hearing, I called Mr. Hill, the state attorney, and told him everything was confirmed, and Mr. Bain was actually innocent of the crime he was convicted for in 1974,” Miller said.

Outside the courthouse, reporters asked Bain how he got through 35 years in jail. He credited two forces: his faith and his family.

“That has been my motto: my family. They made sure I went to the canteen, I had what I needed. I didn’t have to beg, I didn’t have to ask. They were there,” Bain said.

Bain is the 247th person in the U.S. and the 11th in Florida freed because of DNA evidence.

His story is the stuff of best-selling novels, and he knows it. A reporter told him, “You’ve got quite a story to tell.”

Bain replied, “I’m aware of that.”

Because of a new Florida law, Bain is entitled to $50,000 for every year he was in jail: a total of more than $1.7 million.

Bain says he isn’t focused on the money, or on getting revenge on the people and the system which snatched away his life.

“No, I’m not angry, sir. Because I have God in my head. I knew one day he would reveal me,” he said.

Instead, he wants to enjoy the little things he missed in prison – Dr. Pepper. Cell phones. And of course, private time with his extended family.

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