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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — After 29 years of having little control over what he would do on any given day, newly pardoned ex-prisoner Michael McAlister is taking his time deciding how to spend it now that he is free.
He has a concert to attend this weekend: Blind Boys of Alabama and Ani DiFranco in a performance to benefit the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, which was instrumental in securing McAlister's release.
And he has missed fishing. "The James River. It's always good for smallmouth," McAlister said at a news conference Thursday, the day after he walked out of Dillwyn Correctional Center.
But beyond that, who knows?
"Right now I'm overwhelmed with everything," McAlister said.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe pardoned McAlister on Wednesday, about a month after receiving a petition supported by the Richmond's chief prosecutor and the police detective who investigated the 1986 attempted rape that led to the wrongful conviction. A serial rapist serving three life sentences confessed to the assault after McAuliffe received the petition. That man, Norman Bruce Derr, bore an astonishing resemblance to McAlister three decades ago.
The victim, who was able to get a partial look at her attacker's face by clawing at this stocking mask, picked McAlister from a photo lineup. McAlister agreed to allow police to take his picture wearing a plaid shirt similar to the one the attacker had worn.
"I wish I hadn't changed that shirt," McAlister said.
The photo array also did not include a picture of Derr, whose attack on a police decoy in a laundry room of the same apartment complex had recently been thwarted.
McAlister, 58, said he has "some bitterness" over his ordeal — but not toward the woman whose faulty identification was the sole basis for his conviction.
"I've thought about her a lot," McAlister said. "Basically, she's been brutalized twice," first by her attacker and then by learning that she helped put an innocent man in prison.
"She would not have done that intentionally," he said.
McAlister's prison term ended in January, but he remained locked up until the court could decide whether he should be indefinitely confined for sex-offender treatment under Virginia's civil commitment law. A hearing on that issue had been scheduled for Monday.
McAlister said he hopes the state will compensate him for the years he lost, but he has not discussed the idea in detail with his lawyers.
Shawn Armbrust, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, said a state law allows exonerated former inmates to collect an amount equal to 20 percent of per capita income for up to 20 years of wrongful imprisonment. Compensation requires approval of the General Assembly, which in 2012 waived the 20-year cap and awarded just over $1 million to Thomas Haynesworth, who spent 27 years in prison for sexual assaults he did not commit.
McAlister has two daughters in Florida, as well as four grandchildren, but for now is staying in Powhatan County with other family members who are just glad to have him home.
"I'm 81 years old, and I had asked God if he would let me live to see my son free," Rebecca McAlister said. "I made it."
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