CHESTER, Ill. – Imprisoned for life for a double killing after what he said was a coerced confession, Eric Caine spent years behind bars quietly wishing he had been condemned to death instead.
Had that been the case, the 45-year-old Caine figures he would have been freed about eight years ago, when a former governor emptied Illinois' death row and pardoned four of those inmates — including the man tried alongside him for the stabbing of an elderly Chicago couple.
After pressing for years to get his case re-examined, Caine finally walked out of prison and into the sunshine Thursday after more than two decades of incarceration.
A judge had ordered his release a day earlier, the same day the former police commander Caine accused of threatening him with a gun reported to a federal prison for lying about the torture of suspects.
"Let me breathe the air — I just want to enjoy this moment right now," Caine said after strolling out of Menard Correctional Center, the maximum-security lockup near the Mississippi River, about 60 miles southeast of St. Louis.
Wearing jeans, a multicolored striped shirt and shoes provided by his attorney, Caine brought out with him what little he had — a Bible and family pictures. He said he craved oxtail stew, hopes to find a job, start a ministry and marry girlfriend Sara Bush, whom he met while her grandson was doing time at Menard.