A convicted murderer who has been behind bars for 15 years was freed Monday after prosecutors acknowledged that he likely is innocent and that his original trial was tainted.
Richard Miles, 34, was released on a personal recognizance bond after state District Judge Andy Chatham recommended setting aside his convictions in a 1995 trial for murder and attempted murder. Miles' first act as a free man was to embrace his crying mother, who borrowed scissors from the judge and snipped off the jail ID bracelet around her son's wrist.
"I don't have any bitterness," Miles said. "For 15 years I knew this day would come."
He spent Monday night surrounded by loved ones.
"I got nieces taller than me and family and friends that are here, and I just don't want to let nobody down," he said.
"He lost the opportunity to have a family, to see what his life could be like," said Thelma Lloyd, his mother. "He lost his life, his youth."
One of Miles' nieces, Dejonay Miles, said she looks foward to getting to know her uncle. She is 15 years old; her uncle spent 15 years behind bars before he was freed.
"I just want to spend more time with him, the time that we didn't share together," she said.
Miles received a 40-year sentence for 1994 shootings that left one man dead and another permanently disabled. But last week, Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins acknowledged that police never disclosed evidence implicating another suspect.
Prosecutor Mike Ware, who leads the county's Conviction Integrity Unit that examines possible innocence cases, said the secret police reports meant that Miles received "a fundamentally unfair trial." The case was brought to the DA's office after Centurion Ministries, a New Jersey-based group that tries to free the wrongly convicted, reinvestigated it.
"This is a good example of what justice is all about," Watkins said.
Although Miles is free, he is not yet considered innocent.
"We have a good indication of who committed the crime, and we're going to follow that," said Watkins, who has promised to continue investigating.
"It's not as full or complete an exoneration as we would like it to be," said defense attorney Cheryl Wattley, a professor at the University of Oklahoma's law school. "We are so close to the finish line. I see no significant possibility that he will be retried."
A finding of innocence would make Miles eligible for money from the state, which this year passed the nation's most generous compensation law. Texas pays the wrongly convicted $80,000 for each year they spent behind bars, plus a lifetime annuity worth at least $40,000 a year.
The key evidence in the case was a witness who identified Miles as the gunman only after seeing police escort the handcuffed suspect out of a squad car. In a photo lineup showed to the witness an hour later, Miles was the only man wearing a white tank top. Witnesses to the crime said the shooter wore a white tank top, officials said.
Miles is left-handed and was wearing jeans when arrested. Witnesses said the shooter held the gun in his right hand and was wearing shorts. Miles also had an alibi; witnesses testified he was with them at the time of the shooting.
The hearing Monday was delayed about 20 minutes while family members found clothes for Miles so he wouldn't have to appear in prison garb. He work a button-down shirt and slacks with no belt. His shoes did not have laces. Miles, just 19 when he was arrested, had some gray scattered through his dark hair.
He stood facing the judge throughout the brief hearing. He held his hands behind his back with his left hand clasped around his right wrist, as if they were still cuffed.
The sheriff's department made special arrangements to release Miles immediately after the hearing, avoiding the typical process of returning him to jail for paperwork. That announcement elicited murmurs of "Amen" and "Thank God" from Miles' supporters in the courtroom.
After the hearing, Miles was quick to correct reports that he had spent 14 years behind bars, joking that he shouldn't be shortchanged for the additional year he spent in county lockup awaiting trial.
He reminisced about his father, a minister who died in May. Miles said his dad knew his son was getting close to being released.
Miles also said he plans to move in with his mother and that he's finished with bologna sandwiches, a staple of the prison diet.
"I'm going to burn up some gas money, because I haven't been around Dallas in awhile," he said.
But he said his future may take him back to prison -- as a counselor.
"I know that God is going to allow me to affect a lot of men's lives in a positive fashion," Miles said.
Lita Beck contributed to this report.