This article originally ran with the headline in the Hamilton Spectator in Hamilton Ontario:
Freedom sweet for wrongly convicted man
The Associated Press
ATLANTA (Dec 26, 2005)
Robert Clark's eyes widened at the piles of presents before him. The two television sets. The leather jacket. The CD player. The towels, linens, dishes, books, gift cards. The everything.
"That's all for you," someone said to Clark, who was freed from prison this month after being wrongly incarcerated for 24 years.
Clark, 45, beamed. "This," he said, "is going to be a wonderful Christmas."
This scene played out in the midtown Atlanta offices of the Georgia Innocence Project, a not-for-profit advocacy organization that helped Clark obtain DNA evidence to overturn his rape conviction.
Since his Dec. 8 release for a rape he didn't commit, the organization's staff and volunteers have helped him get health care, a driver's license and job interviews.
Clark was convicted after a rape victim identified him from photo and police lineups, even though she earlier had said the rapist was much shorter than the 6-foot-1 Clark.
In 1999, Clark read an article about the Innocence Project, a New York-based organization that works to overturn wrongful convictions. He wrote for help and Innocence Project lawyers took the case. The organization was a role model for the Georgia Innocence Project, which was created in 2002 and later joined Clark's appeal.
The appeal succeeded this year and Clark walked out of court a free man. Reporters have clamored for his time and well wishers have bought him meals. WVEE, a prominent radio station, gave him a $2,000 US shopping spree.
But he also spent parts of four days seeking health care and a prescription card at Grady Memorial Hospital. He went to get a driver's license, accompanied by his sister, who had flown in from Oklahoma and drove him to the test in a rental car. After hours of waiting, he was told he couldn't take the driver's test in a rental car, said Lisa George, the Georgia Innocence Project's communications director.
"The last thing I ever want to do is waste a second of this man's time, because 24 years have been wasted," George said.
Clark said that kind of stuff isn't bothering him. He's delighted to be out of prison and reunited with his two children and five grandchildren and with Janice Smith, the mother of his son Rocky, 28. He said he's not angry. He decided years ago to set aside the rage at being wrongly imprisoned, at the urging of his mother, Lula Clark, who died last year.
But when asked if he ever received an apology, his smile disappeared. "No," he said, adding he would like an apology from the prosecutors who put him away and from the rape victim who misidentified him. But Clark emphasized how happy he is.
"The best Christmas I've had in years," he said.