The judgment day Charles Allen Chatman had dreamed about for almost 27 years, the day he never doubted would come for him, arrived Thursday.
>After his release, Charles Allen Chatman, with family and friends, said his only plan was to get something good to eat.
Surrounded by a small but joyous cadre of family, friends and attorneys, Mr. Chatman walked out of the same Dallas court that sent him to prison in 1981 for an aggravated rape that recent genetic testing shows he could not have committed.
He is the 15th former convict from Dallas County to make that same walk to freedom based on DNA testing since 2001. He served more time than any of the others. Four of the exonerated men were in the courtroom to witness his release.
Mr. Chatman acted overwhelmed at times during a brief court hearing. He looked small in his new dark suit. His eyes darted nervously. His voice barely rose above a whisper. He told reporters his only plan was to "get myself something good to eat."
He is 47 years old now. He hasn't been free of state custody since Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as president in January 1981. He will have to relearn how to use a knife or fork to cut his food. He had not seen a cellular telephone until he called his family Wednesday to tell them the news that he had been cleared.
With his aunt, Ethel Bradley, seated beside him, he thanked his family for never giving up on him. He also thanked his attorneys and state District Judge John Creuzot for helping to prove he could not have been the man who raped a former neighbor in her Oak Cliff home.
Judge Creuzot pushed for the specialized DNA test that cleared Mr. Chatman after becoming concerned that he might be innocent. At the hearing, the judge introduced Mr. Chatman to a dentist who has agreed to repair his teeth and to prisoner advocate Joyce Ann Brown, who herself was wrongly imprisoned for almost a decade.
"I'll do anything and everything I can to help you," the judge said.
With Mr. Chatman watching, the judge signed documents that accepted the DNA results, released him on a personal bond, declared him to be innocent of the rape and recommended that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirm that judgment.