Wrongly convicted man spends first Thanksgiving with family

Published: Nov. 26, 2015 at 10:11 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 6, 2015 at 11:24 PM EST
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HENRICO, VA (WWBT) - An innocent man who spent three decades behind bars for a crime he did not commit is spending his very first Thanksgiving as a free man.  Michael McAlister received a full pardon by Governor Terry McAuliffe six months ago.

A Thanksgiving in Moseley is vastly different than a holiday behind prison walls.  For the first time in three decades, Mcalister can watch his family prepare a holiday meal.

The previous holidays were spent at the prison where McAlister was serving time for a crime he did not commit. In fact his family came up every Thanksgiving, Christmas and his birthdays.

"That's why I couldn't give up, because of my family," says McAlister.

McAlister's family always believed in his innocence.  But in 1986, Richmond prosecutors and police did not.  McAlister was wrongly convicted of a terrifying rape.  "It's just torture, it's torture," says McAlister about his time in prison.

This is all he will say about his time in prison:  "I knew nobody was listening, it was obvious."

It took a confession by the actual rapist, Norman Bruce Derr, support from current Richmond prosecutor Michael Herring and a team of lawyers from the Mid Atlantic Innocence Project to get a full pardon by the governor.

McAlister is adjusting, but it's not an easy road.  He says he has, "A lot of anger."  He says he wants to prevent another innocent person from being put away.

"The way I see to do that is making the prosecutors accountable for the violations of the law that get these wrongful convictions,"says McAlister.

He says legal action should be taken. His advice for other innocent people in prison: "Keep fighting. Keep fighting. Never stop."

For now, McAlister is concentrating on his family. He has two daughters and four grandchildren. He hopes to move closer to them one day.

"They're incredible," he said.  "Especially those grand kids. They're special. They call me Pops. And that's the best thing about it all, my kids and my grand kids."

Mcalister will see all of them for his first Christmas as an innocent man.

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