Man Pardoned After 29 Years in Jail 'Overwhelmed'

Michael McAlister was convicted of a crime another man allegedly confessed to.

ByABC News
May 14, 2015, 6:36 PM

— -- A Virginia man is finally free today after spending nearly 29 years in prison for a crime authorities say he did not commit.

On Wednesday, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe gave Michael McAlister, 58, an absolute pardon, ending the decades-long battle by McAlister and others that had proclaimed his innocence of an attempted rape in 1986.

"My staff and I have carefully and thoroughly reviewed the documentation in this case and concluded that a pardon is appropriate in light of the overwhelming evidence, including a recent confession by another individual, pointing to Mr. McAlister's actual innocence of the crime for which he was convicted," McAuliffe said in a written statement.

"I'm overwhelmed with everything," McAlister said during a news conference today.

On Wednesday, he reunited with his mother, Rebecca, and sister, Denise Haas, outside of the Dillwyn Correctional Center. Rebecca McAlister said then that she felt "wonderful."

"[I] feel better than I've felt in over 20 years," she said. "I'm ready to cook his dinner."

That recent confession reportedly came from a convicted serial rapist, Norman Bruce Derr, according to McAuliffe’s spokesman, Brian Coy. Derr looked almost identical to McAlister back then.

Despite no DNA evidence, however, McAlister was convicted of the crime after the victim picked his photograph out of a police lineup. Derr was not included in the lineup even though he lived close by, looked similar to McAlister and was suspected by authorities of being a sexual predator.

Two years later, Derr was convicted of several sexual assaults, including the rape of a Virginia woman at knife point. He is currently serving three life sentences. He allegedly admitted that he’d attempted to sexually assault a woman in a laundry room inside a Richmond, Virginia, apartment complex in February 1986 -- the crime for which McAlister was serving time.

"We're thrilled the governor did the right thing," Shawn Armbrust of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, which pushed McAlister's exoneration, told The Associated Press. “He's giving Mike the freedom he's deserved for so long.”

Though McAlister’s sentence ended in January, he remained jailed as he faced the possibility of indefinite confinement as a violent sexual offender under state law.

C.M. Martin, the detective who arrested McAlister, said that as he became aware of Derr, he began to have doubts about McAlister's guilt.

In a 2014 affidavit, Martin stated that "in the years since Mr. McAlister’s conviction, I have become convinced that he did not commit the crime for which he is incarcerated and that he was simply misidentified by the victim."

Martin told the Richmond Times-Dispatch Wednesday that news of McAlister's release was "great."

McAlister said today that he was done being angry.

"I'm just glad it is over," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.