The Ledger


Jimmy Bain Released from Prison; Cleared of All Charges
By Shoshana Walter
THE LEDGER

December 17, 2009

LAKE WALES | Mere minutes before James Bain's 9 a.m. hearing today, Assistant State Attorney Wayne Durden received a call from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement with confirmation of the Innocence Project of Florida's DNA test results: The semen on the victim's underwear did not belong to Bain.

Instead of asking for a conditional release for Bain, State Attorney Jerry Hill moved Thursday to vacate Bain's sentence and drop the charges against him.

The defense?

“We have no objection,” said Seth Miller, executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida, to laughter.

About 9:45 a.m., Bain and his family finally heard the words he'd waited 35 years to hear:

“Mr. Bain, I'm now signing the order, sir,” Circuit Judge James Yancey said. “You are a free man. Congratulations.”

In 1974, Bain was convicted of raping and kidnapping a 9-year-old Lake Wales boy.

Now, Bain's family has a house waiting for him. A Toyota Camry. A dresser filled with clothes. A toothbrush and toothpaste. A chess set. His favorite movie, "Titanic." A Curtis Mayfield CD. Pajamas.

No matter how much Bain's family has prepared, the joy of the occasion is tempered by the challenges of Bain's past.

He'll have to navigate a new landscape, punctuated by painful memories and changes he never got a chance to witness. His 77-year-old mother is now ill. His siblings have married and had children. At 54 years old, he'll have to find a job and build a routine.

"The motorcycle he was riding on back then is not the same as today. Just think about him sleeping in a [prison] bunk. Now he'll sleep in a bed," said longtime friend Nelson Freeman, 52.

"When I used to see Jimmy, there was nothing that I couldn't talk to him about when we were little kids. But that was then. Now I'll just tell him, 'Keep your head up and be thankful for what you have left.'"

BAIN'S CHILDHOOD

The Bain children never had a good Christmas as a family, at least not one Janie Jones, Bain's twin sister, can remember.

It was the 1970s. The Bains lived on a crowded cul-de-sac in Lake Wales, where families left their doors unlocked and neighborhood kids played together in the streets until it got dark.

Kenneth Bain was a fruit picker. Sarah Reed worked three jobs - as a school lunch lady, a waitress and a house cleaner. Together, they had seven children.

Kenneth Bain never laid a hand on the kids, but the children remember he'd hit Reed. She took several trips to the hospital and always refused to press charges.

Kenneth Bain said he remembered the "ups and downs," but he declined to talk more about it.

"I can't think of one [happy] Christmas at our house," Jones said. "When they used to fight, I used to hide in closets with my hands over my ears."

As the children grew older and bigger, they began standing up to their father. Jones remembers Bain was especially brave. One night, Kenneth Bain returned to the house and was walking up the steps when his son stepped in front of him.

"Where do you think you're going?" he asked his father.Kenneth Bain turned around and left.

When Reed left her husband, Bain, then a wiry 16-year-old, began to shoulder more responsibility. He worked at a paper factory and shared his earnings with his family, buying their first color television set. About two months before he was arrested, he quit school to begin working full-time. He thought he could better support his mother that way.

THE CRIME

But on March 4, 1974, things changed.

While Jones said Bain was at home watching television, authorities said Bain was in a nearby neighborhood, breaking into a child's bedroom.

According to court records, the 9-year-old victim was sleeping between his sister and brother when a man silently stole through his bedroom window and took him to a nearby baseball field.

The boy awoke and his abductor - whom he later described as a young man of 17 or 18 with a mustache, beard and sideburns - ordered him to take off his pants and raped him. The young man ran away, and the boy returned home, wearing a white T-shirt and underwear, which contained semen.

Seth Miller, executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida, said that's when the investigation went awry.

The boy told authorities Bain was the perpetrator. But Miller, whose organization is co-representing Bain, said the identification was a mistake. In the boy's mind, Bain had become the attacker. The boy's uncle, an assistant principal at Bain's school, told the boy his description sounded like Bain. And when authorities showed him photos of several young men, court records show, the boy said he was asked to pick out not his attacker but "Jimmie" Bain.

Today, many of Bain's siblings say they wish they could have afforded to hire a private lawyer. But with both Bain and his father gone, the family did not have enough money.

Bain was convicted in 1974.

THE NEXT STEP

The first 10 years in prison were hard for Bain.

"He used to get in trouble, trying to figure out why I'm here. He was depressed," Jones said.

His family found it hard to cope with, too.

"I hated to go [visit him]. It hurt. But I knew I had to go. I needed to go for him," said his sister Patsy Amos.

Over time, he developed a patience that surprised even his lawyer, Melissa Montle, and found ways to fill his days. He completed a welding course, became an avid chess player and found comfort in God.

His family has waited 35 years for this day. And now they wonder what's to come.

Will Bain be happy? Will he be able to find a job? Will he grow frustrated over the memories he's missed, the nieces and nephews he's never known?

"That's one of my biggest fears," Amos said. "It's like a whole new world to him."

[ Shoshana Walter can be reached at shoshana.walter@theledger.com or 863-802-7590. ]


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