St. Petersburg man free - after 24 years in prison!

8:03 PM, Jan 23, 2006   |    comments
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St. Petersburg, Florida - A fresh pork chop fries on the range at the James household in St. Petersburg.

It is Alan Crotzer's first wish as a free man after he walked out of a Hillsborough county courtroom Monday morning. At the St. Pete party, Crotzer is greeted by some who had not seen him in a quarter century.

Glen Ahmed, Friend of Alan Crotzer: "He kept staring at me, his eyes came into focus, and he knew who I was."

His day began in court, in shackles. After freedom is granted, Al walks the streets for the first time since 1981, thinking of what he's missed - the death of his mother, and his daughter that he left to go to prison, when she was just five.

Al Crotzer, Freed From Prison after Wrongful Conviction: "Ain't no compensation for what they've done to me. But I'm not bitter."

Crotzer's lawyers say Alan would be forgiven if he were bitter. He spent 24 years, six months, and 13 days were spent in prison for someone else's crimes, the rape and robbery of a 38-year-old woman and a 12-year-old girl in Hillsborough County.

Their word helped convict him, but Al says they too, are victims.

Al Crotzer, Freed From Prison after Wrongful Conviction: "I thought about them, because I always pray for them too, They were probably I was the person that did it, they were made to believe I was the person that did it in some way."

Crotzer's legal team, New York based "Project Innocence" worked for three years to convince a court and Hillsborough prosecutors to look at DNA evidence that shows Al didn't do it. Two brothers are serving time, and admit their guilt.

A break in the case came when one of the brothers, Douglas James, said another St. Petersburg man did the crime, that Al served time for.

Al Crotzer, Freed From Prison after Wrongful Conviction: "I'd like to see him, but I don't want to talk to him, but I'd like to see how he looks, do I look like him?"

Crotzer may never know, but on Monday afternoon, he looked forward to the future, and savored the present of a homecooked meal that included fried pork chops and banana pudding.

Al Crotzer will now focus on getting a job and a driver's license, he's 45, and has never had either.

Dave Bohman, Tampa Bay's 10 News

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