CHICAGO (CBS) – Two men convicted of arson and murder as teenagers have been released from prison after 35 years.
A bench of the Illinois Court of Appeals overturned the prison sentences of the men, Arthur Almendarez and John Galvan. They were escorted out of the Cook County Jail Thursday night.
One of the family members shouted: “He is a free man.”
“I’m trying not to let anger poison my soul,” Almendarez said, hugging his family. “I have been fighting all this time. I was so angry.”
Almendarez said that his mother, who had passed away, was not there to see him as a free man.
No, after 35 years behind bars, he said he didn’t know how to be free.
“I don’t know,” He said. “I grew up in prison. I was 20 years old when I was imprisoned. All I can do is be a prisoner. Now I must learn to be a man in the world and in society.”
It was an emotional night as the men’s families and fans prepared to welcome them home.
Consider this: when they were taken into custody, Galvan was only 18 and Almendares was 19.
Chicago police arrested the men for arson in the early morning of September 2. 21, 1986. Residential building at 2603 W. 24th Sq. burned in the Little Village area. Two young men, Guadalupe and Julio Martinez, who lived in the apartment upstairs with their family, were both killed.
Almendarez and Galván were arrested nine months later on appeal. They were tried, found guilty and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Both always pleaded not guilty and claimed that two Chicago police detectives beat a confession out of them. After countless appeals and 35 years later, an appeals court overturned the conviction, which led to their release.
Their family members were shocked by the call.
“We have been waiting for this day for 35 years,” Almendarez’s sister Laura Guevara said. “It’s overdue.”
“I can’t breathe until he comes out, I can’t,” Almendares’ sister Lydia Villalobos said.
“It’s incredible – I mean, it was like a living nightmare and I can’t believe it’s over,” said Galvan’s mother, Linda Flores. She added that the first thing she wants to do with her son is “to hug him. I want him to take his time. So much has changed in this world in 35 years.”
Family members gathered outside the Cook County Jail at 5 p.m. Thursday. They were determined to wait until Almendares and Galvan were out the door.
It is worth emphasizing that the sentences of Almendares and Galvan were only released, not rehabilitated. They will return to court in about two weeks, after which it will be determined whether the Cook County Attorney’s Office will drop the case completely or prepare to rehear the case from the beginning.